Care Providers across the sector waited expectantly to know whether the Adult Social Care Infection Control and Testing Fund would continue beyond its original 31st March deadline. We didn’t hear anything until 18th March – but at least the news from the Government was positive.
There will be another £341m funding for infection control measures and rapid testing in adult social care services. This is made up of £202.5m in new funding and £138.7m from the existing Test and Trace funding.
In the short term, this money will be very helpful and will be widely welcomed by care providers, their staff and ultimately the people they support and their families. It is reassuring that the HM Treasury recognises the need to support the sector on this crucial issue beyond the end of this financial year. It’s also an acknowledgement that the previous rounds of funding have undoubtedly been important to the sector. The Government recognised quite early on in the pandemic that providers could not cover the costs of the required additional infection prevention control and testing measures without additional funding.
However, we also need hope for the future. The pandemic has led to serious financial pressures for providers, especially smaller providers, but lack of funding is not a new problem. The sector has been underfunded for a very long time.
The Care Provider Alliance would like to see a long-term, sustainable funding solution for the care sector. Without long-term support, we will be in a constant state of intensive insecurity which will seriously affect our ability to provide continuity of care to the millions of people who depend on us every day. We have joined together with six other leading social care organisations to call on the Government to ‘end 25 years of inaction and fix the social care system’. There was no mention of social care funding in the recent budget. However, the Prime Minister has said that this Government will ’fix the crisis in social care once and for all’, so we are asking the Government to commit to publishing its promised proposals before the summer parliamentary recess. This timing would allow MPs the opportunity during the recess to hear from their constituents about the care and support they want for themselves and their families.
Setting the priorities
The Care Provider Alliance has also contributed to a new report from the National Audit Office – The Adult Social Care Market in England (published 25th March). The report details the huge financial and other challenges that face the sector. One of its key recommendations is that the Department of Health and Social Care ’should, as a priority, set out a cross-Government, long-term, funded vision for care. It should collaborate with the Ministry and local Government in particular; factoring in sector and user perspectives, such as people with lived experience.’ The Government should also consider that there are likely to be ongoing costs relating to coronavirus. So far, it looks as if the vaccination programme has been successful in reducing the impact of the virus on people who use social care services, but we don’t know how well it will be controlled in the months and years to come. The vaccines are not 100% effective and new variants that can overcome the existing vaccines are a worry, so we cannot know for sure how long we will need to keep additional infection preventative measures in place.
Even when life gets ‘back to normal’ and the requirements for social distancing and mask-wearing are lifted, it is quite possible that health and social care settings will still need to maintain, and pay for, a higher level of infection prevention, control and testing than was required pre-pandemic. Access to the PPE portal, through which care providers can access free PPE, has been extended until March 2022. When we do lose access to free PPE, we would like to see it permanently zero-rated for VAT.
The sector has also been given additional Government funding to support workforce capacity, primarily to reduce staff movement between settings because of the high risk of transmission between one setting and another. Many staff were ill themselves with COVID-19 or were having to self-isolate, so remaining staff were moving between settings to help fill gaps in staffing. In addition, demand for staff was rising because some people being discharged from hospital required complex or increased social care as they recover from COVID-19 and other illnesses.
Without staff movement there would have been times when some services would not have had enough staff to operate safely, so in response to a Government consultation in January 2021, care providers called for an increase in staffing capacity instead of regulation to reduce staff movement. As a result, on 16th January 2021, the Government announced an extra £120 million Workforce Capacity Fund to support local authorities to manage workforce pressures.
Although attention has been drawn to the shortage of care workers because of the pandemic, lack of workforce capacity is not a new issue. The Skills for Care workforce report 2019/20 (data collected before the pandemic) estimates that 7.3% of the roles in adult social care were vacant in 2019/20, equal to approximately 112,000 vacancies at any one time. There were also in excess of 3,000 unfilled posts for registered nurses working in social care and with an ageing population the demand for care workers is likely to increase. Over recent years, providers have frequently drawn the Government’s attention to the limited workforce growth within the sector and the impact this has on people who need care, but there has been little response and no serious attempt to address the issue.
The Workforce Capacity Fund has led to an improvement in staffing levels since it was launched, but it is another short-term solution. The Government working with the Care Provider Alliance acknowledges that the lack of social care workforce capacity is a serious and ongoing problem and that there are actions it can take to improve recruitment and retention. We would like to see a sustainable ‘People Plan’ that ensures not only that pay and conditions of care workers are attractive enough to compete with the likes of the supermarket chains, but also a clear strategy to address the workforce issues and a career pathway for people who work in social care.
Protecting the vulnerable
The pandemic has, of course, brought major new challenges to preventing and controlling infection in care services, but the sector has always recognised that good practice in this area is fundamental to providing high-quality care. The people we support – older people, those who have serious mental and physical health challenges and people with learning disabilities – are more likely to have weaker immune systems than the rest of the population. They have a higher risk of infection, a higher risk of serious complications and a higher risk of death. This has always been the case and doesn’t just apply to COVID-19.
Infection prevention and control is a key element of the CQC inspection process and providers know that very high standards are expected of them. The Care Provider Alliance has always worked closely with the CQC on prevention and control issues to support the sector in reaching and maintaining these standards. How care homes managed infection prevention and control during the coronavirus pandemic 2020 – a report from CQC that was published last November – stated that, ‘…most care providers that we have inspected have shown they are responding to the challenges of infection prevention control well, under these extraordinary circumstances. We have seen some providers using innovative and exciting practices to keep people safe. They have been supported by staff who have gone the extra mile to keep the people in their care healthy, stimulated and as independent as possible, while keeping family members and carers informed and engaged.’ (Kate Terroni, Chief Inspector of Adult Social Care).
Care Provider Alliance resources
Coronavirus Infection Prevention and Control resources. The Care Provider Alliance has gathered a range of resources, including Government guidance about prevention and control of COVID-19.
Infection control checklist
This document provides a helpful checklist that you could use to help you prevent and control the spread of infection in your care setting. This document should be used in conjunction with national guidance and local policies. It should also be used to complement the guidance on Infection Prevention and Control.
Staff movement: a risk management framework – A framework developed by the Care Provider Alliance to help providers make decisions about staff movement while there is a risk of transmission of COVID-19.
How has your business found the Infection, Prevention and Control guidance and regulations? Do you feel supported enough? Share your feedback on this article.