The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) published its Coronavirus COVID-19: Adult Social Care Action Plan on 15 April, outlining how the Government will provide more support to the adult social care sector in England throughout the Coronavirus outbreak.
The plan applies to all settings and contexts in which people receive adult social care, including people’s own homes, residential care homes and nursing homes, and other community settings, as well as to people with direct payments and personal budgets, and those who fund their own care.
Controlling the spread of infection in care settings
The Government has stepped in to support the supply and distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE) to the care sector for the first time, ensuring there is an emergency supply in place, whilst building a longer-term solution for distribution to the sector. As of 6 April 2020, the DHSC will provide essential PPE supplies to 58,000 different providers including care homes, hospices, residential rehabs and community care organisations.
On 10 April, Public Health England (PHE) set out its PPE plan, including guidance for usage in the social care sector. PHE's new PPE hub with the relevant information is available at https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/coronavirus-covid-19-personal-protective-equipment-ppe.
PHE said it is working to provide further case studies of how this works in practice by 16 April, explaining for example how the term “sessional use” should be interpreted in a care home or home care environment.
PHE will also work with care sector bodies to produce specialised training videos for donning and doffing standard PPE by the 17 April, will give insights into how the PPE guidance applies in care settings, and keep under review what other forms of training and support may be required locally to ensure safety and respond to the needs of staff working in the sector.
Initial and longer term measures to distribute PPE to social care settings are outlined in detail in the plan.
In terms of managing outbreaks, at present testing is done on the first five symptomatic residents in a care home setting with an outbreak. The Government has now confirmed that it will move to all symptomatic residents in care homes being tested.
With regard to safe discharge from the NHS to social care settings, the Government set out plans on 17 March to free up NHS capacity via rapid discharge into the community and reducing planned care. Some care providers have been concerned about being able to effectively isolate COVID-positive residents, and about discharges into nursing or social care putting residents currently in those settings at risk.
The Government is now moving to institute a policy of testing all residents prior to admission to care homes, beginning with all those being discharged from hospital, and the NHS will have a responsibility for testing these specific patients in advance of timely discharge. Where a test result is still awaited, the patient will be discharged and pending the result, isolated in the same way as a COVID-positive patient will be.
For individuals coming from the community, the Government will move to these residents being tested prior to admission.
Supporting the workforce
The Government is rolling out testing of social care workers across the country with over 3000 workers now having been referred to local testing centres. There is now capacity available for every social care worker who needs a test to have one, just as there is for NHS staff and their families.
The Action Plan recognises the need for more people to work in social care to cover for those who are not in work, and relieve the pressure on those that are. Over the next three months, the DHSC aims to attract 20,000 people into social care and will shortly launch a new national recruitment campaign. It will highlight the vital role that the social care workforce is playing right now, during the pandemic, along with the longer-term opportunity of working in care.
Returners to the sector will be targeted, as well as new starters who may have been made redundant from other sectors. People will be directed to the national campaign website which links to advertised social care jobs on https://findajob.dwp.gov.uk/.
The Government has also worked with Skills for Care to make it easier for employers to access rapid online induction training for new staff, including key elements of the Care Certificate, and is available free of charge.
To support the wellbeing of social care workers, Shout has launched a free text messaging support service, so that social care staff can send a message with “FRONTLINE” to 85258 to start a conversation. But, in many cases the support needed will be found from colleagues and the teams people are working in, so the Government is extending the package of support that is available to the NHS so that those working in the social care sector can benefit; social care workers will have access to a dedicated website, developed in partnership with the NHS.
Last week, working with Samaritans and Hospice UK, the DHSC launched a dedicated free to caller support helpline for NHS staff. Work ongoing to extend this to all social care workers as soon as possible. The confidential support line will enable social care workers to talk through problems or challenges they are experiencing. They will also be able to access a bereavement service and access support to cope with anxiety and trauma.
Skills for Care is also creating a package of support for registered managers, recognising that they are facing particular challenges.
As guidance is being updated frequently for the social care sector, a new CARE branded website and app for the social care workforce will be launched by the end of April, to provide guidance and practical support.
Parity of esteem with NHS
As many in the sector have called for a greater feeling of identity and parity, a “CARE” brand has been set up to sit alongside the “NHS” brand in England. It is being formally established based on the existing Care Badge that has been developed by everyLIFE Technologies and Care England, and latterly the National Care Forum, who have agreed to transfer ownership of the brand to the DHSC so it can be used, promoted and protected appropriately.
The Government has also made the move to increasing the tracking of deaths of people with COVID-19 in care homes and domiciliary care. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) is publishing care sector deaths weekly but from 10 April, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) has asked care providers to let the CQC know if people have died from suspected and confirmed COVID-19, in order to provide a full and transparent picture of COVID-19 related deaths while avoiding double counting or publishing statistically misleading information.
"Annex A" to the Action Plan provides a list of useful links to all key COVID-19 guidance that is now published for social care providers.
COVID-19: Our Action Plan for Adult Social Care is available at https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/879639/covid-19-adult-social-care-action-plan.pdf.