COVID-19: does the response of the regulators call for a fresh approach?

During the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare regulators reviewed their processes and made a joint commitment to take human and environmental factors into consideration when determining whether a complaint/incident reached the threshold for fitness to practise action.

In addition, the country saw an outpouring of support and affection for healthcare practitioners working hard to treat patients in hugely pressured and trying circumstances.

Alongside the guidance on relevant factors to consider during the life of an investigation, emergency registration was granted to recently retired practitioners under emergency powers granted by the Coronavirus Act 2020. Notably,  the GMC introduced guidance for decision makers on requests to relax or revoke sanctions or IOT orders in response to COVID-19 which allowed those whose registration was subject to restriction to apply for an early review of that restriction.

Do these changes reflect a change in what may be determined in the public interest and can healthcare professionals be reassured that such changes will remain in place once the impact of the pandemic has subsided? It may be more apposite to ask whether they should remain in place.

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Assistive technology in a reformed social care system

We wrote in 2019 about the role of assistive technology in how it could help social care users.  A new Commission by two care bodies has now been launched to explore the role of assistive technology in a reformed social care system.  The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the weaknesses and frailties of the UK social care system.  What role could assistive technology play in creating a more robust social care system for the future?

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High Court gives permission for judicial review into care home policies taken at start of pandemic

We wrote at the end of October about the crowdfunded legal challenge being brought against the UK Government in relation to their response to care homes at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Yesterday, in a remote hearing, Mr Justice Linden gave permission for this legal challenge to proceed to a full hearing.

The claimants, Dr Cathy Gardener and Fay Harris, are seeking a judicial review of the policies and related measures which had a bearing upon the protection of care homes between March and June 2020. They first formally brought their legal challenge in June, following the death of their fathers (who were both residents in care homes) from COVID-19 in April and May this year. As we have often reported in this blog, tens of thousands of care home residents have tragically died in care homes from (either confirmed or probable) COVID-19, since the beginning of the pandemic.

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Workforce burnout and resilience in the NHS and social care – Health and Social Care Committee Oral Evidence

The Health and Social Care Committee, chaired by Jeremy Hunt MP, has launched a new inquiry to examine workforce ‘burnout’ across the NHS and social care. The focus of the committee is on workforce planning, including the effectiveness of the NHS People Plan. The level of training needed to meet the demands of the Health and Social Care Sector is also being examined.

With the media’s focus throughout the pandemic being fixed upon the rising number of COVID-19 cases and the mortality rate,  it is easy to forget the impact being felt by frontline workers. The Committee has now heard from a number of key witnesses whose evidence has shone a light on the struggles being faced.

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Study suggests excess death toll in care homes from Covid-19 has been hugely underestimated

An early draft of a study from the University of Manchester suggests there may have 10,000 more deaths of care homes residents than previously reported.  The study compares statistical data on deaths in care homes between January 2017 and February 2020 with data from April to August 2020. 

This study has not yet been peer reviewed, but notes that of the excess deaths, 65% were only directly attributed to Covid-19.  That leaves the remaining 35% (10,000 deaths) that were not officially attributed to Covid-19.  The question is what caused those excess 10,000 deaths. 

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Care homes and visiting- the latest news

We wrote at the start of this month about the government’s plans for visits to care homes and how this could be implemented in a Covid-secure manner.  Such plans however were heavily criticised by the care home industry and families of residents.  The government’s proposed measures required equipment such as screens and intercoms, so would cause difficulties for residents with dementia or cognitive difficulties, not to mention putting extra financial strain on homes in funding this equipment. 

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Safeguarding issues for care providers during the COVID-19 Pandemic

The importance of Safeguarding vulnerable adults residing in care homes has never been more important than during the pandemic. Care staff, be they managers, a carer, nurses or personal assistants are all facing this challenge . 

The Care Act statutory guidance (para. 14.7, June 2020) defines adult safeguarding as:

“Protecting an adult’s right to live in safety, free from abuse and neglect. It is about people and organisations working together to prevent and stop both the risks and experience of abuse or neglect, while at the same time making sure that the adult’s wellbeing is promoted including, where appropriate, having regard to their views, wishes, feelings and beliefs in deciding on any action. This must recognise that adults sometimes have complex interpersonal relationships and may be ambivalent, unclear or unrealistic about their personal circumstances.”

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Visits to care homes during lockdown

The topic of visiting care home residents continues to hit the headlines this week. 

The government published guidance for visiting care home residents this week. Previously care home visits had been banned in Tier 2 and 3 areas.  The new guidance confirms that visits may continue during the lockdown period for England, so long as this is done in a COVID secure manner, using for example PPE and social distancing, and recording visits for Test & Trace. The new guidance comes following widespread pressure from charities and industry bodies to allow visits.

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Government’s plans to create ‘COVID-19 positive’ homes runs into difficulties

Last month we reported that the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) was putting place plans to set up so called ‘COVID-19 positive’ care homes where patients could be discharged to from hospital rather than regular care homes.  This plan was created with the intention of easing pressure on hospitals as well as ensuring residents are not admitted to care homes whilst potentially being infected with COVID-19.   Local authorities had been asked to confirm suitable locations for such facilities by mid-October with a view to having these facilities up and running by the end of November.

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Discharges from hospital to care homes in Scotland during COVID-19

At a coronavirus briefing on 28 October 2020, the First Minister quoted directly from a Public Health Scotland report published that day on ‘Discharges from NHS Scotland Hospitals to Care Homes between 1 March and 31 May 2020‘ (link here), saying “The analysis does not find statistical evidence that hospital discharges of any kind were associated with care home outbreaks.”

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