On 9 January 2023 the Department of Health and Social Care (“DHSC”) published its policy paper relating to the Government’s current priorities ahead of this forthcoming winter. It is aimed at care providers, local authorities, integrated care systems, carers and social care staff. The purpose of which is to provide clarity into both the current priorities of the UK government, alongside information on where funding will be spent this winter to assist the social care sector.
Key priorities & measures implemented for this winter
NHS England is set to continue to support systems which deliver work within care home settings, including the provision of health assessments and personalised care and support plans. This is to ensure that residents, within 7 days of admission or readmission to a care home, will have a personalised care and support plan. This is particularly crucial for social care providers, especially with supporting the discharge of people from hospital into social care, which is set to become a key priority in the health and care system during this winter. The UK government have made £500 million available to local authorities and integrated care boards to speed up safe discharge into social care. This funding can also be used to boost general adult social care workforce capacity, through staff recruitment and retention, which will contribute to reducing delayed discharges.
The UK government has also reiterated the importance of community-based falls response services. Falls and related injuries are increasingly common and risks to people increase the longer they are waiting for care. However, the UK government has reiterated that not all falls will result in serious injury and a proportion of them can be managed by a community-based response service and is urging social care providers to consider them.
The UK government is also set to continue its recruitment drive for the social care sector. It has now made care workers eligible for the health and care worker visa, alongside adding them to the shortage occupations list. To further aid this recruitment drive, the UK government has pledged £15 million funding this year to support the international recruitment drive into adult social care.
Furthermore, the importance of having suitable infection prevention control has also been reiterated. Throughout the winter period there is a greater risk of multiple viruses co-circulating, alongside the risk COVID-19 still poses. However, guidance on the use of face masks has been amended to support a risk-based approach. This now empowers providers to use their own judgement on the use of face masks as they navigate the complexity of using face masks for people receiving care and the staff looking after them. This still includes free PPE which is available for the care sector to assist with COVID-19 until March 2023. Vaccinations and COVID-19 autumn boosters are still available to the following individuals including:
- Adult residents and staff in care homes
- Frontline health and social care workers
- Adults aged 50 and over
- Persons aged 5 to 49 years in a clinical risk group or who are household contacts of people with immunosuppression
- Carers aged 16 to 49
This is not just limited to the COVID-19 vaccine, but categories mentioned above are also eligible for a free flu vaccine this season to assist in protecting staff and residents in social care.
Lastly, the UK Government have also asked the CQC to reduce NHS hospital inspections to ensure that NHS hospitals can fully focus on admitting people into suitable care placements. This will aid in freeing up crucial bed space. This was announced on 9 January 2023 in parliament when Health Secretary Steve Barclay said:
“Mr Speaker, the third action we are taking to support the system right now is to free up frontline staff from being diverted by CQC inspections over the coming weeks, and the CQC have agreed to reduce inspections and focus on high-risk providers in other settings like mental health.”
What the UK Government is doing to assist with the cost of living and energy crisis
The UK government outlined plans to help cut energy bills for businesses which includes health and social care providers. This was demonstrated via the ‘Energy Bill Relief Scheme’ announced on 21 September 2022. This supports social care providers for 6 months from 1 October 2022 and provides a discount on wholesale gas and electricity prices. This is being reviewed in January 2023 to assess whether continued support needs to be provided beyond March 2023.