The Government must “go further” to help the social care sector cope with the coronavirus outbreak, amid a “critical lack” of protective gear and tests, experts said.
Covid-19 is “sweeping through social care with devastating results” a month into lockdown, social care bosses and unions have warned in a joint statement.
Insufficient supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE), and tests only being offered to social care staff this week, “almost certainly” means the virus has had more serious consequences than is currently known, they say.
The Government, which launched a social care plan on Wednesday, has been told that it must step up to protect the lives of society’s most vulnerable and those caring for them.
The statement, signed by the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (Adass), Unison, Unite, GMB and TUC, warns that residents and workers remain exposed to unnecessary risk.
It reads: “Social care is facing a crisis without precedent. Problems with supplies of protective equipment and a lack of testing is causing much anxiety amongst employers, staff, and the families of the people they care for. Many care home residents and care workers have already died.
“People who rely on social care are often more vulnerable to catching and dying from Covid-19. Yet a month into this crisis, many care workers are still working without suitable PPE, despite their heightened risk of exposure to the virus and to spreading it.
“A critical lack of PPE and testing of social care staff and service users is putting them at unnecessary risk of exposure – and means we are almost certainly underestimating how far the virus has spread.”
BREAKING: Statement by unions and @1adass on PPE in the care sector.— Trades Union Congress (@The_TUC) April 16, 2020
A critical lack of PPE and testing of social care staff and service users has allowed #coronavirus to sweep through social care.
Without urgent action from govt the virus will continue to devastate the sector. pic.twitter.com/7htyetUvzB
The signatories welcomed the Government’s action plan, but warned that “it needs to go further and action will be more important than words”.
It must produce a strategy to enable sufficient PPE to reach providers, so they are not forced to source items privately at an inflated price.
And it must ensure Covid-19 patients are not discharged from hospitals to care homes without key safety checks on how they will manage.
While Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said testing is available “right across the NHS and social care for all those who need it”, the signatories have pressed Government for a clear deadline on this.
He told the Downing Street press conference on Wednesday there is “spare capacity in the thousands” which gives them the space to increase the number of people eligible.
Some 4,100 social care staff have already been referred for tests, he said.
Helen Wildbore, director of the Relatives & Residents Association, said: “Older people receiving care are at the sharp end of this crisis. For too long they, and the services which care for them, have felt like an afterthought.
“The lack of PPE, testing, and clear guidance has meant many people have been denied their ‘right to say goodbye’, compounding their grief.
“This pandemic must force collaboration and integration, between health and care services, between government departments, and between central and local government. Otherwise older people’s rights will continue to be put at risk.”
Pete Calveley, the chief executive of Barchester Healthcare, which runs more than 200 homes, said: “Many people have rushed to criticise the Government’s adult social care action plan, but it is vital that we don’t miss the point; we should recognise that the changes are broadly welcomed.
“The negative response probably reflects levels of frustration across the care sector.
“The care sector is very diverse and those who work in care need all the support we can give them from a governmental, societal and employer level.”