How the care sector can take best advantage of business opportunities

There has been no shortage of commentary on the challenges facing care homes during the pandemic, from the number of infections and fatalities to the risk of further waves and lack of testing and PPE, along with the loss of income due to lower occupancy and reduced staff levels and reputational implications. There is speculation that some 25% of care homes may go out of business.

However, whilst these matters are real threats to businesses in the care sector, there are nevertheless some things that are well worth you considering as part of your plan for sustainable growth for a viable care business. The following are just some examples.

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Frontline health & care staff £60,000 payments

The Department of Health issued a press release confirming that families of health and care workers on the frontline in England will benefit from a new life assurance scheme during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Details of the scheme, which were first published on 27 April, are now beginning to become clearer.

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COVID-19 & RIDDOR for care providers: when and when not to report

The Health & Safety Executive’s (HSE) guidance in respect of RIDDOR and COVID-19 presents a significant challenge to those responsible for reporting within a care setting. Care providers are understandably concerned that notifying the HSE of a non-reportable incident could result in an unnecessary HSE investigation. Some care providers are also concerned that a notification under RIDDOR may be construed as an admission of responsibility should a criminal and/or civil action be pursued.

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Partially remote hearings for inquests – New Chief Coroner Guidance

On 11 June 2020, the Chief Coroner published his Guidance No 38, ‘Remote Participation in Coronial Proceedings via Video and Audio Broadcast’.  This guidance builds upon Guidance No 35 dealing with hearings during the COVID-19 pandemic which we have commented on in previous blogs.

Since the lockdown began most inquests have been postponed, with coroners opening inquests and holding documentary inquests where no witnesses are called to give evidence.

The current pandemic has seen the  increase in use of partially remote hearings where the court is satisfied that it is just to do so.

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RIDDOR reporting of deaths of health & social care employees due to COVID-19

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) provided guidance on when deaths from COVID-19 or instances of COVID-19 should be reported to it.  The HSE emphasised RIDDOR reports were only required in relation to employees where a death had occurred as a result of occupational exposure to COVID-19 or a person had contracted COVID-19 in the workplace.  When deciding on whether a RIDDOR report is required, a “responsible person” within the organisation should make an informed decision on whether a confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19 is likely to have been due to exposure at work.

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Expansion of COVID-19 testing in care settings

At the government’s daily COVID-19 briefing yesterday, the Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced a further expansion of its testing programme for COVID-19 in care settings.   Previously the focus had been on care homes providing care for over 65s and for those with dementia.  Testing will now be available for all residents and staff in England whether or not they have symptoms of COVID-19.  Testing will also be extended to under 65s and to encompass for example adults with a learning disability or with mental health problems.

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CQC publishes data on COVID-19 deaths & persons with a learning disability

In the past few months, one of the dominant news stories has been that of the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on the social care sector.  This has mostly focused upon the issues surrounding elderly care.

However, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) has this week published an analysis regarding deaths of persons with a learning disability and/or autism.  The analysis is based upon notifications from providers registered with the CQC where the death certificate indicates the deceased had a learning disability.  This shows in the period 10 April to 15 May there was a 134% increase in deaths in comparison to the same period in 2019.

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Protecting the vulnerable in the midst of COVID-19

Our recent blogs have consistently focused on this developing saga as COVID-19 continues and as we as a nation compare ourselves to our counterparts, we are increasingly coming up short.  There is a stark message coming through that our most vulnerable have been forgotten: the elderly in care homes, the detained in mental health units and those with learning disabilities.

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CQC & ADASS emergency framework

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) established the Emergency Support Framework (ESF) to ensure the CQC could continue to practice its regulatory function in maintaining safety across health and social care settings. Although all routine inspections are currently on hold, the CQC aims to use the ESF for the purpose of collating information and intelligence from a number of sources to assist the CQC with issues such as monitoring risk, identifying where support is required and delivering safe care.

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The CQC and care homes – the COVID-19 crisis

Despite early Government promises to the contrary, it always seemed obvious that the pandemic would hit care homes (residents, relatives and staff) with some force.  A letter dated 22 May 2020 from the Relatives and Residents’ Association (RRA) to the CQC makes very clear the views of the RRA, who accuse the CQC of failing to protect care homes.

The RRA letter describes the following failings on the part of the CQC, and demands action :-

  • Inadequate provision of data on care home deaths to the Government. Failing to do so resulted in the Government having inaccurate data and under-estimating the seriousness of the situation.
  • Showing a lack of urgency, and instead complacency. For example, the CQC did nothing to rebut the early statement from Public Health England that it was “very unlikely” that care homes would be affected by the pandemic.
  • Failing to represent the needs of care homes for PPE, testing and tracing.
  • Providing guidance for care homes (the “Emergency Framework) only on 1 May, over six weeks after lockdown was announced, and even then, providing no guidance for care homes on how to deal with anxious families.
  • Allowing standards to fall due to the decision to suspend inspections of care homes from 16 March 2020. (The CQC have said they would still arrange an inspection wherever they are aware of “significant risks” such as allegations of abuse, but otherwise, any monitoring is being carried out remotely.  We understand that approximately 2000 checks of care homes have not been carried out in the last two months that otherwise would have been.)

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