On 18 September 2020 the Social Care COVID -19 Support Taskforce produced its final report, advice and recommendations. The Taskforce was commissioned in June 2020 and completed its work in August 2020 reporting to the Minister of State for Care. It consisted of leaders from across government and from the social care sector and was chaired by David Pearson former president of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS).
The Taskforce was set up to oversee the delivery of two packages of support that the government had put in place for the care sector, the Social Care Action Plan and Care Home Support Package. In addition, the Taskforce was asked to support the government’s work on community outbreaks – areas of the country that needed particular help and intervention to deal with higher rates of infection – and advising and supporting local places to consider and respond to reducing the risk of infection in care homes and the wider social care sector.
As part of its work, eight advisory groups were established to explore specific areas of care, namely:
- Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities
- good practice, guidance and innovation
- mental health and wellbeing
- older people and people living with dementia
- people with learning disabilities and autistic people
- self-directed support
The Taskforce considered an extensive range of issues in relation to the social care sector including:
- provision of personal protective equipment
- COVID-19 testing arrangements
- the winter flu vaccination programme
- infection prevention and control
- issues of funding
The report sets out the action that will need be taken to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19 in the sector, both for those who rely on care and support, and the social care workforce.
The report sets out a number of recommendations which are a combination of ‘quick wins’ as well as topics that will require a degree of substantial change and/or additional resource. There are a number of supporting recommendations in the annexed reports of the subject-specific advisory groups, which should be considered in tandem with the main report recommendations. Also included within the report are many examples of innovative best practice which have emerged during the pandemic.
A few of the pertinent recommendations made in the report have been highlighted below:
Sufficient PPE provision to all social care providers (regulated and unregulated settings) should be made, free of charge, until at least the end of the current financial year (until 31 March 2021).
Consideration should be given to making a contribution to the costs of PPE, experienced by the sector in this financial year to date.
Action for: DHSC / Her Majesty’s Treasury (HMT)
Local authorities should establish mechanisms for supplying PPE to informal carers based on individual need.
Action for: Local authorities
Organisations should work to agree joint mechanisms for enabling staff to raise concerns about access to adequate supplies of PPE.
Action for: CQC and local authorities
In areas of high prevalence and local outbreaks, testing of care staff should be a priority. It is also recommended that SAGE continues to review the evidence to consider whether community staff should be tested routinely. As testing capacity becomes available, the government should review the testing of care staff in the community. A priority for consideration is live-in care workers.
Action for: DHSC / SAGE
Testing of regular family visitors to care homes should be reviewed by SAGE considering risks associated with visitors, risks to residents of not being able to see their families and circumstances where relatives’ care and support in the homes is an integral part of the care plan
Action for: DHSC
The testing of essential and regular visitors to care homes, such as CQC inspectors, should be kept under review
Action for: DHSC and NHS Test and Trace
All agency staff should continue to receive weekly testing and agencies should put mechanisms in place to ensure this is done. Government should put in place regulations to require providers to ensure staff have been tested before they work in a care home
Action for: DHSC
There should be a national communications campaign to encourage take-up of the flu vaccination in the social care sector. This campaign should involve central government, local government employers and trade unions. It should cover service users, carers and the workforce
Action for: DHSC / local government / trade organisations and trade unions
Workforce and Family Carers:
The government should set up a short-term workforce planning group to further address workforce capacity issues, likely to arise over the next 6 months. To conclude its work within 6 weeks.
Action for: DHSC
Government should keep under review vacancies and absence levels and consider further measures to improve recruitment and retention if existing strategies do not sufficiently fill the gap. This should include the continuation of recruitment marketing to attract the right candidates to fill existing vacancies.
Action for: DHSC
There should be appropriate training and support agreed and provided for care staff who are undertaking delegated tasks.
Action for: DHSC / Skills for Care
The Infection Control Fund was introduced alongside the Care Homes Support Plan in May 2020. The taskforce provided advice to the government as to whether the fund had been effective and should continue.
In view of the continued threat of the pandemic to care homes and the wider social care sector, the Infection Control Fund should be in place for the rest of the financial year. Any unspent committed funding should be rolled over for use in the rest of the year and the fund should allow for spending on equipment and technology to aid infection control.
Actions for: DHSC
The SAGE sub-group to review the evidence on the risks associated with the discharge of COVID-19 positive people from hospital and admissions of COVID-19 positive people from the community to care homes.
Action for: SAGE sub group
Inspection and regulation
The CQC inspection framework should be reviewed to take into account the recommendations in this report and the winter plan.
Action for: CQC
CARE HOME SUPPORT PLAN:
The Care Home Support Plan was launched on 15 May 2020. The plan included a raft of important measures, based on the emerging international evidence, many of which were dependent on the working relationships between providers, local authorities, the health service and wider public services.
Restricting staff movement:
As part of the Taskforce’s work, the Chair wrote to the sector emphasising the importance of restricting staff movement and paying full pay to staff who are isolating or absent through illness. The Taskforce has made a number of recommendations in this area including:
Local authorities should review contingency arrangements for staffing shortages with the aim of reducing the need for staff movement.
Action for: Local authorities
Further explore the level of exclusivity arrangements that exist with care agencies and how to increase them, reducing staff movement.
Action for: Providers
ADULT SOCIAL CARE ACTION PLAN:
On 15 April 2020, the government published an Adult Social Care Action Plan with the intention of introducing measures aimed at:
- controlling the spread of infection
- supporting the workforce
- supporting independence, supporting people at the end of their lives, and responding to individual needs
- supporting local authorities and the providers of care
The taskforce carried out a review of the actions identified in the Adult Social Care Action Plan and the degree to which they had been delivered. The majority of the action plan has been completed with remaining parts being covered in the taskforce recommendation
THE WINTER PLAN:
The Adult Social Care COVID-19 Winter Plan was published the same day as the Taskforce’s report. This is reflected in one of the recommendations.
Following the publication of the national winter plan, each local authority and provider should have in place its own winter plan to build resilience and give confidence to the public. This should include business continuity planning for organisations and contingency planning for service users and carers in situations where there are complex arrangements which depend upon a few key individuals and family carers.
Action for: DHSC with local authorities and providers