Three leading charities have warned that it will take many more months before NHS and social care organisations are able to fully restart services following the COVID-19 outbreak.
Speaking in front of MPs on the health and social care select committee this week, representatives from the Health Foundation, The King’s Fund and Nuffield Trust said ministers should not underestimate the pandemic’s impact on already exhausted staff who need to be sure they can treat and care for people safely.
The charities warned that immediate measures need to be taken to address the ongoing crisis in social care where death rates from COVID-19 in care homes only just appear to be stabilising.
And they said plans to resume health and care services need to factor in the very real possibility of a second peak in COVID-19, as well as planning for winter pressures.
The representatives told MPs that staff caring for COVID-19 patients in the NHS and social care have experienced high levels of stress and exhaustion.
They added that staff will need reassurance that adequate protection against the virus is in place before restarting services.
‘COVID-19 has wreaked significant harm on our society, with the toll felt most sharply by ethnic minority and socioeconomically deprived populations,’ said the Health Foundation’s chief executive, Jennifer Dixon.
‘Responding to the virus has exposed strengths and weaknesses in our health and social care system.
‘Getting services back up and running, taking account of likely future pressures from COVID-19, winter, and the backlog of ill health from delayed care will be a steep climb,’ she added.
‘But COVID-19 has also demonstrated how the health and care system can move fast, implement new technology and ways of working, and the deep commitment of NHS and care staff. All of these will be needed, with resources to match, to face the challenges ahead.’
The chief executive of The King’s Fund, Richard Murray, added: ‘As well as the very real and visible challenges faced by NHS hospitals throughout this crisis, there have been multiple hidden frontlines in services such as social care, community health and mental health.
‘The health and care system is a complex web of inter-related services: when one part fails, patients and service users can easily fall between the gaps. All aspects of the health and care system will need to be back up and running if services are to return to any semblance of normality. In the case of social care, normality should not be the aim: the sector needs increased funding and fundamental reform.’
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