The previous guidance from the Department of Health and Social Care failed to address adequately the issue of personal protective equipment (PPE) in care homes. With this said, on 15 April 2020 the Department of Health and Social Care published a new action plan for Adult Social Care, which aims to address the concerns, specifically in respect of PPE. This applies to both care homes and generally any setting where people receive adult social care.
The guidance sets out how to control the spread of infection in care settings, as well as guidance on supporting the workforce, those in care and supporting the local authorities and the providers of care.
In respect of the growing concern of PPE in care homes, the plan sets out the strategy for distribution of PPE stock, as well as explaining that they are “Working around the clock to ensure we are buying and making more PPE to see us through this pandemic. We have set up a new unit to identify and buy PPE supplies from across the globe as well as encouraging UK manufacturers to produce PPE in a national call to action.”
The action plan acknowledges the care sector has called for more support with training as a result of COVID-19 and the new procedures surrounding PPE, explaining that “To support this, Public Health England (PHE) will work with the care sector representative bodies to produce some specialised training videos for donning (putting on) and doffing (taking off) of standard PPE by the 17th April 2020 and will offer tailored insights into how the PPE guidance applies in care setting.”
However, we have seen, as documented by the UK press, that many care homes are currently confused about how they should be using these very often limited supplies of PPE and that this is as a result of conflicting advice from PHE.
What this means in practice
Whilst the guidance addresses the lack of resources, there is still a lack of guidance on the practical realities which care home providers are facing in the eye of the current pandemic. Whilst there is still a short supply of PPE and guidance as to how this should be adequately used, it is still arguable that there is an unrealistic expectation placed upon care home providers to protect their employees and residents.
The Department of Health and Social Care have “mobilised a National Supply Disruption Response (NSDR) system to respond to emergency PPE requests, including for the social care sector.”
However, we have seen as documented by the UK press that care workers as well as the NHS may be asked to reuse PPE. This further highlights the lack of PPE in care environments.
What this means for care home providers
Care home providers will need to continue to be alert to the guidance surrounding PPE and will need to ensure any training or guidance is effectively followed. Care providers should be alert to any training as to how to effectively use PPE and if asked to reuse PPE, what can and cannot be reused. However, we are yet to be informed as to the impact this may have and whether the reuse of PPE will ensure staff and care home residents are safe.
The provision of the recent volumes of guidance prepared and the uncertainties still faced by care homes could potentially result in an increase in care home providers failing in their duty of care to both staff and residents and compliance with any insurance conditions. As previously explained, this in turn will likely have obvious implications on the defence of claims brought for care and neglect as a consequence of COVID-19.
Michelle Penn, Partner, BLM