I would like to update the House on the Government’s comprehensive adult social care COVID-19 strategy and its publication of the Adult Social Care Winter Plan. A copy of the plan will be deposited in the Libraries of both Houses. The coronavirus pandemic has created unprecedented challenges in the United Kingdom and around the world.
This has resulted in an equally unprecedented, but not unexpected, response from the social care sector and its dedicated workforce of 1.5 million people, who alongside the 5.4 million plus women, men and young people who provide unpaid care, have made an invaluable contribution to the national effort and our gratitude to them all is immense.
Together, they have been working tirelessly to support people who need care, especially those who are older or already living with underlying health conditions making them more vulnerable to infection.
Alongside extensive efforts at local level, national government has provided enhanced support to the sector, working with and through local leaders. This support was set out in the Adult Social Care Action Plan and Care Home Support Plan. It included £3.7 billion of emergency grant funding to local authorities to address the pressures on local services caused by the pandemic and a £600 million Infection Control Fund to support providers to reduce the rate of transmission of COVID-19.
Meanwhile, the Adult Social Care Covid-19 Support Taskforce, set up and chaired by David Pearson (social care COVID-19 Lead for the NHS and past President of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services), formed part of the Government’s overall commitment to the sector.
It would be wise to assume that coronavirus, in addition to anticipated service demand, will place unique pressures on the health and care system this winter. COVID-19 will be co-circulating with seasonal flu and other viruses, and transmission may well increase over the winter period.
It is therefore essential that we – national government and local partners – work closely together to make sure we are prepared for these additional pressures, particularly a resurgence of COVID-19 cases. We must have robust plans in place to respond to challenging events and protect people who need care and the workforce supporting them.
The Adult Social Care Covid-19 Support Taskforce concluded at the end of August, and their recommendations have shaped our approach to tackling COVID-19 in the adult social care sector and, in particular, the plans we have put in place for winter.
As we approach these colder months, the Government will play a key role in driving and supporting improved performance of the system, working with local authorities and CQC to strengthen their monitoring and regulation role to ensure Infection Prevention and Control procedures are taking place. The key elements of our plan for social care this winter are:
- Providing an additional £546m Infection Control Fund to support infection control measures.
- Continuing to engage with local authorities, care providers, people with care and support needs, and their families and carers to understand their needs and provide support.
- Leading and coordinating the national response to COVID-19 and providing support to local areas as set out in the Contain Framework.
- Continuing to develop and publish guidance which is relevant and accessible, and update policies and guidance in line with the latest evidence. We will work to proactively communicate vital updates to our winter plan and other guidance.
- Working relentlessly to ensure sufficient testing capacity and continuing to deliver and review the social care testing strategy in line with the latest evidence and scientific advice. We will also improve the flow of testing data to everyone who needs it.
- Providing free PPE for COVID-19 needs in line with current guidance to care home and domiciliary care providers via the PPE portal until March 2021.
- Providing free PPE (for COVID-19 needs) in line with current guidance to local resilience forums (LRFs) who wish to continue PPE distribution, and to local authorities in other areas, to distribute to social care providers ineligible for supply via the PPE portal until March 2021.
- Making the flu vaccine available for free to all health and care staff, personal assistants, and unpaid carers.
- Introducing tightened measures around visiting. We recognise that visits are important for the wellbeing of residents and loved ones, but with higher rates of Covid-19 in the community, extra precautions will be needed. We have set these out in revised guidance. Infection control is paramount and in designated ‘areas of intervention’ visiting will be stopped except in exceptional circumstances, such as end-of-life.
- Stopping all but essential movement of staff between care settings to stop the virus spreading. We know that the majority of care homes have already done this – now we are taking this restriction further and will enforce this through regulation.
- Working with the CQC to ensure that all places that receive people discharged from hospital are safe and have the highest levels of infection control measures in place.
- Supporting providers to ensure that staff who are isolating in line with government guidance receive their normal wages while doing do.
- Publishing the new Adult Social Care Dashboard, bringing together data from the Capacity Tracker and other sources, meaning that critical data can be viewed in real time at national, regional and local level by national and local government.
- Publishing information about effective local and regional protocols and operational procedures based on what we have learnt from so far, to support local outbreaks in the event of increased community transmission.
This doesn’t diminish the need for a long-term plan for social care. Putting social care on a sustainable footing, where everyone is treated with dignity and respect, is one of the biggest challenges our society faces.
There are complex questions to address, to which we want to give our full consideration in light of current circumstances.
Successive governments have failed to ‘fix’ social care, but this Government has been clear that this must change. Right now, the Government’s number one focus for adult social care is for everyone to receive the care they need throughout this pandemic.
This crisis, awful though it has been – and continues to be – for so many people, may yet be the catalyst for a new kind of social care; services that reflect, adapt and future proof the health and wellbeing of all of us – now and for many generations to come.
This statement has also been made in the House of Lords