The Department of Health and Social Care has provided guidance for care homes, local health protection teams, local authorities, clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) and registered providers of accommodation for people who need personal or nursing care during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. The guidance sets out how to admit and care for residents safely and protect care home staff.
The guidance states:
“As part of the national effort, the care sector also plays a vital role in accepting patients as they are discharged from hospital – both because recuperation is better in non-acute settings, and because hospitals need to have enough beds to treat acutely sick patients. Residents may also be admitted to a care home from a home setting. Some of these patients may have COVID-19, whether symptomatic or asymptomatic. All of these patients can be safely cared for in a care home if this guidance is followed.”
What this means in practice
The practical application of the guidance means that the onus in respect of safety of residents is put squarely in the hands of care home providers. The guidance does not suitably address the potential lack of resources and the practical realities which care home providers are facing in the eye of the current pandemic. Accordingly it is arguable that an unrealistic expectation is being placed upon care home providers to protect their employees and residents in situations where PPE is unavailable or in short supply, workforces are depleted due to illness and the only alternative would be for the care homes to cease operation.
By way of example the guidance document stipulates:
“We will ensure a longer-term supply of all aspects of personal protective equipment (PPE) for care homes – and home care providers – so that staff can provide care, as well as providing a national supply disruption line for immediate concerns.”
However as has been documented by the UK press, front line staff within hospitals are said to have an absence of or ineffective PPE. Accordingly the provision of PPE to care providers may not be high on the list of priorities where there is arguably greater need elsewhere, such as in hospitals.
What this means for care home providers
The provision of the recent guidance could potentially result in an increase in care home providers failing in their duty of care to both staff and residents. This is in turn will likely have obvious implications on the defence of claims brought for care and neglect as a consequence of COVID-19. How it impacts domiciliary care providers is unclear.
Michelle Penn, Partner, BLM