A national action plan to reduce COVID-19 outbreaks in care homes and support care staff and providers has been announced by the government.
The plans include boosting access to PPE, ramping up testing and recruiting more staff, as well as developing a unifying new, NHS-style ‘care’ brand, in recognition of the contribution of care workers.
Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock (pictured) said: “We should all be proud of our incredible care sector who are fighting this battle against this virus on the frontline.
“Our care staff come to work day-after-day supporting our most vulnerable in these incredibly challenging times.
“Today we are introducing a new CARE brand that can be worn with pride, and it will signal to everyone that they belong to a strong, united and respected family.”
The government’s commitments include the testing of all care workers where required as well as symptomatic residents. Over 4,000 social care workers have already been tested, the government said. Furthermore, everyone going into a care home from hospital will be tested with immediate effect.
PPE delivery is also being overhauled with orders being dispatched more quickly, including through direct dispatches via Royal Mail, a 24/7 hotline and a new pilot website. Seven million PPE items in England have been dispatched, equivalent to 300 face masks for each provider to meet immediate demand.
The new ‘care’ brand, which is based on the existing CARE badge, will make it simpler for care givers to access benefits such as priority shopping hour granted to NHS staff.
The moves also include plans to expand the care workforce by tens of thousands through a new recruitment campaign backed by a new online platform to upskill new staff.
Chief Executive of Care England, Professor Martin Green OBE, said the social care action plan provided a framework on which to build the future of social care as well as showing the important role the sector was playing in the current emergency.
A spokesperson for the Voluntary Organisations Disability Group (VODG) welcomed the government’s move but said the announcement lacked details on delivery.
“We need policy makers to grasp the very real, very live challenges the sector is facing while also making an investment to lay the foundations for a stronger sector once the pandemic is over,” the VODG said.
“Instead, today’s publication provides a canter through the government’s reactions thus far when what the sector needs is a clear plan that instils confidence among social care providers coupled with a meaningful commitment of financial investment in a sustainable future.”
A Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) spokesperson said the government’s strategy was an overdue recognition that social care is on the front line in the battle against COVID-19 and would lay the ground for much needed reform.
Julie Ogley, President of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, added: “We now have a national strategy; the challenge is now to implement it. Any strategy will ultimately be judged by actions it produces, not words it contains. This is a welcome first step towards recognising, prioritising and enabling colleagues working across social care to do their critical work to keep us all safe. We owe it to them to implement it in full.”
Cllr David Fothergill, health and social care spokesperson for the County Councils Network, said the social care strategy “must be backed by a further injection of funding for councils to respond to the crisis, alongside a more substantial effort to ensure all councils and care homes have sufficient supply of personal protection equipment (PPE)”.
ICG chair, Mike Padgham said the new measures aid social care in its fight against coronavirus adding the sector was at last getting the reaction it deserved.
While also welcoming the action plan, Oona Goldsworthy, CEO of Brunelcare, said its provisions should have been made weeks ago.
Oona added: “The lack of PPE equipment across the industry is simply unacceptable, with some providers like us being just days away from running out entirely, all while caring for residents who have confirmed cases of coronavirus.
“The government’s emergency PPE planning provision is failing to work for the entire sector. As an industry we have also had considerably mixed messages about PPE from the government with messaging being misleading, inaccurate and confusing.”