A cross-party group of MPs have condemned the government’s ‘slow, inconsistent, and at times negligent approach’ to social care during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a new report out today (29 July), the public accounts committee said ‘years of inattention, funding cuts and delayed reforms’ had left the sector as a ‘poor relation’ that has suffered badly in the current crisis.
The report argues this was illustrated early on by the ‘appalling error’ committed when 25,000 patients were discharged from hospitals into care homes without ensuring all were first tested for COVID-19.
The committee said it is particularly concerned about staff in health and social care ‘who have endured the strain and trauma of responding to COVID-19 for many months’ and who are now expected to ‘cope with future peaks and also deal with the enormous backlogs that have built up’.
It also warned a failure to protect staff by providing adequate PPE has hit staff morale and confidence, while a lack of timely testing led to increased stress and absence.
These same staff will be called upon in the event of a second peak and the NHS will need extra staff to deal with the backlog of treatment, according to the report.
As well as its calls for a ‘second wave ready’ plan, for health and the economy, the committee expects an account to be provided in September of the spending under ‘policies designed to create additional capacity quickly’.
‘The failure to provide adequate PPE or testing to the millions of staff and volunteers who risked their lives to help us through the first peak of the crisis is a sad, low moment in our national response,’ said committee chair, Meg Hillier.
‘Our care homes were effectively thrown to the wolves, and the virus has ravaged some of them.
‘Vulnerable people surviving the first wave have been isolated for months, in the absence of a functional tracing and containment system. Yet there were bold and ambitious claims made by ministers about the roll out of test, track and trace that don’t match the reality.
‘The deaths of people in care homes devastated many, many families. They and we don’t have time for promises and slogans, or exercises in blame. We weren’t prepared for the first wave.
‘Putting all else aside, government must use the narrow window we have now to plan for a second wave. Lives depend upon getting our response right,’ added Ms Hiller.
In response, a Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: ‘Throughout this unprecedented global pandemic we have been working closely with the sector and public health experts to put in place guidance and support for adult social care.
‘Alongside an extra £1.3bn to support the hospital discharge process, we have provided 172 million items of PPE to the social care sector since the start of the pandemic and are testing all residents and staff, including repeat testing for staff and residents in care homes for over 65 or those with dementia.
‘We know there is a need for a long-term solution for social care and we will bring forward a plan that puts social care on a sustainable footing to ensure the reforms will last long into the future.’
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