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‘It’s clear that the epidemic in care homes is coming under control’ – Hancock

A social care task force was announced as the Government confirmed the expansion of testing to all adult care homes in England.

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Care homes were described as the ‘epicentre’ of the crisis in the UK at one point (Joe Giddens/PA)

Care homes were described as the ‘epicentre’ of the crisis in the UK at one point (Joe Giddens/PA)

Care homes were described as the ‘epicentre’ of the crisis in the UK at one point (Joe Giddens/PA)

It is safe for people to send their loved ones into care homes, the Health Secretary has insisted, as he said the coronavirus epidemic in the sector is “coming under control”.

Matt Hancock said the number of people dying in care homes has fallen 79% from the peak in the week ending April 24 to the week ending May 29, according to the Care Quality Commission.

There has also been an almost 50% fall in the number of new care home outbreaks compared to the previous week, he said.

He told the Downing Street press conference: “With all of the measures that we’ve put in place over the past few months, all of the billions of pounds extra that we’ve put in, it’s clear that the epidemic in care homes is coming under control.

“Even those care homes where there are cases have very strong infection control procedures in place.

“In fact, if you look at the proportion of people in the UK who have sadly died in care homes, it is significantly lower than in comparable countries across Europe.”

A social care task force has been announced to help prevent the spread of coronavirus, as the Government expanded its testing regime to thousands more care homes in England.

Mr Hancock said David Pearson, an “eminent social care expert” and former chief of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, will lead the new unit.

This will focus on ensuring providers have the support, training and resources to stop infection spread while looking after the people who receive care, its newly-appointed chairman has said.

Mr Pearson told the press conference: “The task force will bring together the concerted and determined actions of central and local Government with care providers.

“Our focus will be on stopping infection whilst trying to ensure the wellbeing of all people who receive care and support, whether they live in care homes or at home.

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(PA Graphics)

(PA Graphics)

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(PA Graphics)

“Social care has a crucial role to play in supporting the people who receive care and support and their carers, and our job is to harness our efforts as we go through the various phases of this pandemic and support social care in its crucial role.”

It comes as Mr Hancock confirmed an extension of the coronavirus testing regime in English care homes to all “working age care homes”, including those with people with learning disabilities or mental health problems.

A letter from the Department of Health and Social Care sent to care providers on Friday revealed plans to expand testing to all remaining adult care homes for those under the age of 65, regardless of symptoms, from June 7.

Mr Hancock said this will benefit over 6,000 further care homes after claiming success in his target of getting staff and residents in elderly care settings a test by early June.

He had previously pledged in mid May that “every resident and every member of staff in our elderly care homes in England” would be tested “between now and early June”.

He said: “We’ve now sent over a million test kits to almost 9,000 elderly care homes and the care homes themselves asked that they have the flexibility to do the test when it works for them.

“The good news is that the test results so far do not show a significant rise in the number of positive cases despite going through and testing all of the residents and staff.”

Kate Terroni, chief inspector of adult social care at the CQC, welcomed the announcement, adding: “We look forward to further detail on the timetable for testing of people who use community-based services, particularly extra care housing and supported living services.”

Niall Dickson, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, welcomed the task force as “the first step in tackling the gulf between health and social care”.

He continued: “However, we have had false dawns before. If this is to mean anything we need commitments from Government to reform social care by bringing health and care together and funding social care, not with emergency handouts but with a sustainable and guaranteed programme of investment.”

Fiona Carragher of Alzheimer’s Society said the task force was “badly needed to ensure an end to the devastation that coronavirus has wreaked in care homes, and more widely, on people with dementia”.

She said it should “urgently review why people with dementia have been worst hit by the virus, as well as to directly address the complex needs and challenges they have. With the threat of a second spike, the Government must ensure that the tragedy of the last few months is not repeated.”

PA