Adult Social Care and Covid-19
Government ministers have sought to reassure the public that the UK’s pandemic planning is amongst the best in the world. Clearly it helps that there is a National Health Service which is geared up to dealing with emergencies and is used to taking orders from above. In addition, Rishi Sunak, the new Chancellor, announced on the Andrew Marr show that the NHS will get whatever resources it needs. One hopes that the Treasury includes social care in its calculations when allocating additional money to fight the virus.
Emergency legislation is going to be introduced this month aimed at easing the anticipated staffing burden by:
(i) making it possible for volunteers to take time off work to support health and social care services and
(ii) providing for a quick re-registration process for retired health professionals to enable them to step in and provide support.
The current position
As always the main focus is on the NHS but what about private and voluntary social care providers who run tens of thousands of services across the UK?
As we move from containment to delay, it is essential that new up-to-date Government guidance is provided to community and residential services. The current guidance issued on 25 February 2020 is based on there being no community transmission of Covid-19, and states, “It is very unlikely that anyone receiving care in a care home or the community will become infected.” The situation has moved on since then, with Professor Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer stating to the Health Select Committee on 5 March that community transmission was “highly likely” to be occurring. Furthermore, in an article in The Times on 6 March, Professor Peter Piot, director at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, wrote, “We can safely say there are already a few thousand people infected in the UK.”
The ultimate question?
The question is what support will be available to community services, particularly those looking after the elderly, in the event of widespread transmission? In Seattle, several patients in a nursing home have succumbed to Covid-19, with 70 out of 180 staff members developing symptoms. After criticism about a delayed response from the US Government, a Federal “strike team” has now gone into the service to support it. Does the UK have “SWAT” teams available to go in to residential services that become stricken with the virus? I think not. All the Government says is that services will be given advice by local Health Protection Teams. There has been talk of pooling staff across services but one of the guiding principles of containment and delay is for people not to move across services.
One thing that will need to happen is for far more staff to start work before their criminal records checks have come back, given the exceptional strain on the system that is likely to occur, including a significant proportion of care staff going off sick themselves. It may need to become the default position until the epidemic subsides with providers relying instead on Adult First Checks, close supervision and risk-assessments.
Cementing a plan in place
Crucially, care providers should have robust pandemic coronavirus management plans in place, as well as business continuity plans. There is only a small window to prepare these plans and start implementing them. Anne Smith of Brilliant Care Solutions has written an excellent article on this very topic which is available here. There is also the helpful guidance issued by the Care Providers Alliance (CPA) on 26 February on Infection Prevention and Control, together with an Infection Control Checklist. The CPA will also be issuing guidance to the sector on Business Continuity Planning with a template that can be adapted to each particular service.
The key point is that care services need to plan for the whole event now rather than wait for revised Government guidance to be issued down the line.
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Neil Grant, Partner and Health & Social Care Solicitor