Death of an employee in adult social care due to COVID-19 – PHE publishes advice on notifications

Public Health England published helpful guidance last week to local authorities and social care providers on who and what they should notify when an employee or volunteer working in adult social care dies from COVID-19.

The guidance, which is available here, covers the following:

  • Telling the deceased’s family
  • Telling others at work
  • Reporting to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE)
  • Informing the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC)
  • Notifying the Care Quality Commission (CQC)

The guidance provides contact information, or links to contact details, for each of the organisations that might have to be notified. It should, however, be noted that not every organisation will need to be notified in every case.

In respect of the HSE, for example, a report is required under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013 (“RIDDOR”) where there reasonable evidence that a work-related exposure to COVID-19 caused a death. If this condition is met, a RIDDOR report must be sent to the HSE within 10 days of the death and it is a criminal offence not to meet this requirement.

In respect of the DHSC, there is no legal requirement on providers or local authorities to report employee deaths. However, the guidance encourages reporting to DHSC. The guidance suggests this is to help provide support to the family of the deceased, to allow the government to send a letter of condolence to the family, to enable medical examiners to scrutinise the deaths of social care workers from COVID-19 and to help the government with ongoing research.

In respect of the CQC, a statutory notification must be made if the deceased was an individual registered service provider or a member of a partnership because this will affect the registration of the service in question. A failure to notify the CQC when required can lead to prosecution and there is no requirement for the CQC to send a warning notice first.

The guidance also requires providers and local authorities to reach out to the deceased’s family, including supporting them through a life assurance scheme application (if the scheme applies) and sharing information with them about the coronavirus bereavement scheme.

The guidance defines “workers and employees” broadly. It includes “all types of workers in the adult social care sector, regardless of role of employer, and including volunteers”. “Employers” includes but is not limited to privately run care providers, local authorities and charities. The guidance acknowledges that for agency staff, whilst the agency as employer should normally make the relevant notification(s), in some cases it may be better coming from the provider directly. There is no requirement for an organisation to be CQC-registered for the guidance to apply.

It is perhaps a shame that this guidance has come so late in the day. However, providers should take note of the guidance and ensure that the deaths of any staff members, volunteers or other “workers” in their organisations due to COVID-19 are reported in the correct fashion. At the same time, providers should be wary of over notification. They do not, for example, want to trigger an HSE investigation if there is not reasonable evidence that the COVID-19 death resulted from exposure at work.

For agency staff, providers would be prudent to check with the relevant agency if they are not sure who should, or will be, making the relevant notification(s).

Providers who have any questions about or require advice on notification requirements can contact Ridouts Professional Services plc on 0207 317 0340