The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) published its autumn and winter COVID-19 plan this week.
Prior to the latest Government announcements, Stephen Chandler, ADASS President, said, ‘Adult social care must be central to the Winter Plan and not an afterthought. We hope that the plan incorporates the recommendations of the excellent work led by David Pearson and involving colleagues across the sector which reviewed last year’s plan.
‘Last year we also sought £1.5bn to build up care at home and £1.5bn to give unpaid carers breaks to keep them going. This year, this will be even more important in dealing with the current workforce crisis.’
As of 9th September, more than 92 million doses of the vaccine have been given across the UK according to GOV.UK statistics. Over autumn and winter, the Government has said it will aim to sustain the progress made and prepare the country for future challenges.
The Government plans to achieve this by:
- Building defences through pharmaceutical interventions: vaccines, antivirals and disease-modifying therapeutics.
- By Identifying and isolating positive cases to limit transmission: Test, Trace and Isolate.
- Supporting the NHS and social care: managing pressures and recovering services.
- Advising people on how to protect themselves and others: clear guidance and communications.
- Pursuing an international approach: helping to vaccinate the world and managing risks at the border.
This is the Government’s Plan A – an approach designed to steer the country through autumn and winter 2021-22. However, the last 18 months has shown the pandemic can change course rapidly and unexpectedly and it remains hard to predict with certainty what will happen. There are a number of variables including levels of vaccination; the extent to which immunity wanes over time; how quickly, and how widely social contact returns to pre-pandemic levels as schools return and offices reopen; and whether a new variant emerges which fundamentally changes the Government’s assessment of the risks.
The Government has also said It is a real possibility that the impact of flu (and other seasonal viruses) may be greater this winter than in a normal winter due to very low levels of flu over winter 2020-21. Therefore, the Government has a Plan B in England which would only be enacted if the data suggest further measures are necessary to ‘protect the NHS’. Plan B includes measures such as:
- The public would be urged to act more cautiously.
- Mandatory vaccine passports could be used for mass events and other settings.
- Face coverings could be legally mandated in some places.
Responding to the Government’s COVID-19 Winter Plan, Julie Bass, Chief Executive at Turning Point, a leading social enterprise providing drug and alcohol, mental health, learning disability, employment and primary care services, said, ‘Many challenges face health and social care services over the coming months and today’s announcement includes some measures to enable us to tackle these issues head-on.
‘However, we must recognise that the health and social care system is fragile, services are at capacity, and frontline staff remain under pressure. There is limited resilience in the system and as we enter the next phase of the pandemic our reserves are depleted.
‘If we do need to move to plan B, we will need to recognise, and support, the vital role that community-based health and social care services play in preventing people from being admitted to hospital in the first place or enabling people to be safely discharged.’
Due to the importance of fresh air in limiting the spread of COVID-19, the Government will set out in guidance the practical steps everyone can take to maximise fresh air in order to reduce the risk of airborne transmission, taking into account the colder months when more activities take place indoors.
The Government will support improved ventilation in key settings by:
- Providing further advice and support to businesses to help them check their ventilation levels and introduce Carbon Dioxide (CO2) monitoring where appropriate.
- Conducting further scientific research to assess ventilation levels in a range of business settings.
- Investing £25 million in c.300,000 CO2 monitors for schools.
- Improving the management of ventilation across the public sector estate alongside bespoke guidance to maximise the effectiveness of existing mechanical and natural ventilation. This has included deploying CO2 monitors in courts as well as targeted rollouts and trials of these monitors in other settings.
- Continuing to support and promote pilots of how to limit transmission through ventilation or air purification, such as the trials of high-efficiency particulate absorbing filters and ultraviolet-C air cleaners in 30 Bradford schools, as well as working with stakeholders such as the Rail Delivery Group and Rail Safety and Standards Board to trial the use of upgraded air filtration devices on passenger rail stock.
The NHS will offer booster doses to individuals who received vaccination in Phase 1 of the COVID-19 vaccination programme (Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) priority groups 1-9). The NHS is preparing to start offering booster doses next week, the week commencing 20th September.
Separately to the booster programme, the NHS is already offering a third vaccine dose to people aged 12 and over with severely weakened immune systems as part of their primary schedule, as recommended by the JCVI.
Visit the UK Government website for more information about the COVID-19 Winter Plan.
In other news, The Government is seeking views on plans for staff in health and care settings in England to be required to have COVID-19 and flu vaccines to protect vulnerable people.