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Feature: No lessons learned on social care since Covid-19

Care providers say the government is continuing to ignore the crisis in social care that left the oldest and most vulnerable exposed to the Covid-19 pandemic.

This comes following the publication of the first inquiry into the pandemic, Coronavirus: lessons learned to date.

The report shared findings from the joint inquiry established in October 2020 with the aim of providing a fuller evaluation of the government’s handling of the pandemic.

It seeks to provide an early assessment of the key decisions, structures and underlying factors which contributed to the extent of Covid-19’s impact in England

Responding to the report, Independent Care Group (ICG) chair Mike Padgham said social care paid the awful price for years of under-funding and under-staffing when Covid-19 struck. And that the government has clearly not learned any lessons from the pandemic as the social care sector is still battling to survive.

‘We know that at least 32,849 people died from Covid-19 in care settings between December 28 2019 and September 24 this year. Without the blood, sweat and tears shed by our amazing staff within the social care sector, that could have been much worse. They performed miracles.

‘When Covid-19 hit, the care of people in their own home and in care and nursing homes was already on the brink after a generation of neglect.

‘The government then compounded that situation by putting social care to the back of the queue, concentrating attention and resources on the NHS as it reacted to the pandemic.

‘At the outset, care providers were told to continue as normal and even when alarm bells started ringing, we had to fight to get proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), access to the right testing regime and funding support to prevent us being overwhelmed.

‘Eventually, the government did acknowledge that social care was as much a part of the frontline against Covid-19 as NHS care was and we got a measure of support.

‘But if you ask whether any lessons have been learned, I would say the signs are, alarmingly, that they haven’t and social care is still playing second fiddle to NHS healthcare.’

person in black long sleeve shirt holding babys feet

Longstanding pressures on social care

The joint inquiry looked in detail at six key areas of the response to Covid-19, including the country’s preparedness for a pandemic, the use of non-pharmaceutical interventions such as border controls, social distancing and lockdowns to control the pandemic. As well as the use of test, trace and isolate strategies, the impact of the pandemic on social care, the impact of the pandemic on specific communities and the procurement and roll-out of covid-19 vaccines.

The ICG said it welcomes the report’s acknowledgement that longstanding pressures on social care need to be tackled urgently, that the prominence of social care within its government department needs to be addressed and that reform of social care, via a 10-year-plan, is overdue and needs to be undertaken urgently.

The report also endorses the Health and Social Care Committee’s call for additional resources to be directed to social care.

Mr Padgham said: ‘We have to get more funding into social care to tackle the staffing crisis and start providing care for the 1.5m plus who are living without the care they need. We must also reward those amazing care staff properly for the critical work they do.

‘The government maybe believes that it solved the social care crisis by announcing some extra National Insurance funded money. But that extra funding will first go to the NHS, with social care not receiving any benefit for some time.

‘Social care has already been hit hard by the inability to recruit overseas workers following Brexit. The compulsory vaccine could take another 40,000 out of the sector, where there are already 120,000 vacancies.

‘The report acknowledges this and we would call on the government to postpone the November deadline on this straight away.

‘Social care is, once again, on its knees and further storm clouds are gathering that could push many providers to the brink, leaving the country short of care this winter, when it needs it most.

‘The litmus test for this first report will be whether the government reacts to it and carries out the root and branch reform of social care that has been needed for many, many years but ignored by government after government.’

woman in purple polo shirt wearing eyeglasses

Putting older people at the centre of Covid recovery

Dr Jennifer Burns, president of the British Geriatrics Society, who provided written evidence for the inquiry, said the government must honour its promise to reform social care to ensure that older people have access to the vital services they need.

‘We know that the Covid-19 pandemic has been devastating to older people with 90% of deaths occurring in those aged over 65.

‘Those living and working in care homes were particularly affected by policies at the beginning of the pandemic around access to testing, personal protective equipment and discharge from hospitals to care home.

‘We were pleased to have the opportunity to contribute to this inquiry. We welcome the acknowledgement in this report that the social care sector in general, and older people in particular, were not protected as well as they should have been throughout the pandemic.

‘While it is of course too late for the many older people who died during the pandemic, there are steps that the government can and must take now to put older people at the centre of Covid recovery.

‘The government must invest in rehabilitation for older people who have become deconditioned during the pandemic and those who are being discharged from hospital.

‘We know that thousands of older people across the country are stuck in hospital when they do not need to be there because sufficient support is not available for them at home.

‘This government must honour its promise to reform social care to ensure that older people have access to the vital services they need, now and in the future.’

The department of Health and Social Care has been contacted for comment.

Photo Credit – engin akyurt

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