This pandemic has been a testing time for everyone, no more so than for those working in social care and health services.
One of the reasons I agreed to chair the COVID-19 Social Care Support Taskforce was the opportunity to put in place effective measures to build resilience in the care sector. This was about enhancing protection for users of care services and the workforce.
At the same time, it was important to me and my taskforce colleagues that we make sure residents, staff, families and loved ones remain connected to the wider services they need to maintain good health and wellbeing. Our goal, therefore, was to deliver support, guidance and clarity to the sector at a time of unprecedented system pressure.
The taskforce consisted of leaders from across government and the sector, people with lived experience and representatives from many organisations and specialisms that collectively deliver social care services in this country.
In a year when we have mourned the tragic loss of friends, family members and colleagues, we have also witnessed remarkable efforts by individuals, teams and organisations to provide safe, compassionate, high-quality care.
That’s why our recently published report , though providing many recommendations for local authorities, commissioners and care providers, is dedicated to the care workforce and the people they strive so hard to keep safe and well.
Now that those recommendations have also helped to shape the Department of Health and Social Care’s COVID-19 Winter Plan, I believe we are in a better place to face the challenges posed by the virus.
As that plan is implemented, I’m confident we will gain an even tighter grip on all the things we know make a difference when applied consistently across the country. That said, this can only be achieved through the continued combined efforts of health and care services, national government and local leaders.
The challenges remain significant of course. There are approximately 1.5 million people working in social care, providing care and support in around 38,000 settings. Even in normal circumstances, keeping people safe, healthy and enjoying the best quality of life possible is a major and complex undertaking.
It will surprise no one with a care background that finding ways to improve personal protective equipment (PPE) provision was high on our list of recommendations. On that note, I am very pleased to see the Government publish a dedicated PPE strategy and ramp up access to masks, gowns, gloves and other vital equipment, free of charge, to care providers via the PPE portal.
Our report also tasks the Government and its sector partners to maintain the focus on the supply and administration of all care home testing. Regular testing is fundamental to effective infection prevention and essential to peace of mind for care staff, residents and the wider community.
In part as a result of our work, care professionals are already receiving the benefit of reinforced guidance on infection prevention control, updated visiting protocols and enhanced social distancing measures in the workplace.
Meanwhile, staff who find themselves self-isolating because of suspected or actual infection have the added reassurance their salaries will continue to be paid in full while they are off work.
It’s also a sad fact of this pandemic that persistent health inequalities in our communities have been highlighted as never before.
As many of us are now aware, black and minority ethnic (BAME) communities have been disproportionately affected by the virus, with many lives lost on both the workforce and community sides.
Our BAME advisory group, one of eight groups established to focus on particular aspects of the pandemic, submitted recommendations to mitigate this imbalance and help save more lives.
This includes providing more support for BAME frontline workers, such as workplace risk assessments that take proper account of ethnic background and, more broadly, making sure a more culturally sensitive approach is taken to developing and sharing best practice across the sector.
Needless to say, we will only succeed in defeating coronavirus if we find solutions that meet the health and wellbeing needs of everyone in this country. The virus may discriminate in terms of high-risk groups, but that doesn’t mean we should.
We cannot be sure what the future holds, but we must be fully prepared for the virus’ likely longevity. It requires another huge collective effort from everyone to implement the Winter Plan on a daily basis and follow all recommended guidance.
I believe the work of the taskforce, the roadmap set out in the Winter Plan and our commitment to supporting the care workforce, provides the means for us to meet the many challenges still to come.
David Pearson CBE is Chair of the Adult Social Care COVID-19 Taskforce. Twitter: @25DavidPearson