The government has now published its Winter Plan for Adult Social Care. This detailed document sets out a plan for social care for adults of all ages for the coming months. The Plan applies to England only. It notes that COVID-19 will be circulating at the same time as normal winter flu and viruses, so there is likely to be additional pressure on the health and social care sector. The Plan specifies the role central government will play as well as setting out its expectations for local authorities, NHS organisations and social care providers.
The headline points in the plan are:
- A goal of ensuring sufficient testing capacity, and ring fencing 100,000 tests a day for the Social Care sector
- An extension of the Infection Control Fund through to March 2021
- Free PPE to be provided to care providers until March 2021
- Free flu vaccination for health and care workers. Flu vaccinations can be delivered directly by pharmacists to care workers.
- A new online Adult Social Care Dashboard for real time data on capacity etc.
- Limiting movement of staff between care settings as far as possible to reduce infection spread
- Safe discharge from NHS settings and hospital admissions avoidance strategies
- Delivery of the Enhanced Health in Care Homes framework, allowing swift access to clinical advice for staff and residents
- Keeping visits to care homes under strict review and monitoring, including ensuring appropriate PPE is provided and supervising visits to ensure social distancing
- Staff recruitment strategies to ensure the workforce is properly staffed over the winter
- CQC to carry out additional inspections focusing on infection control
The Plan is certainly comprehensive, but lacks detail in some areas. For example, with regard to testing, the Plan aims to ensure sufficient testing capacity, and says for example social care providers should ensure symptomatic residents and staff can access testing. However given the recent well publicised problems with COVID-19 testing in general, the Plan does not specify how these problems will be alleviated .The Plan refers to guidance on testing for staff and residents, but that guidance is dated 25 August 2020 i.e. prior to the recent problems with testing delays .
The Plan also recognises that whilst these measures are in place to deal with Winter 2020/21, the social care sector faces long term complex challenges, and that the government is looking at a range of proposals as part of their commitment to a plan that addresses these challenges for the future. Back in December 2019, the newly elected Conservative government had pledged funding of £1 billion per year to assist local authorities in respect of social care and had promised to consider a long term social care plan. Whilst the additional support and funding provided in this current Plan will of course be welcomed by the sector in order to deal with the present COVID-19 crisis, a robust strategy is still required for the long term.
Social care providers and local authorities will need to take on board this Plan and evidence how they comply with the expectations set out in the Plan, which will be crucial in dealing with any complaints or investigations or civil claims. Given that the Plan does lack detail in some areas, providers should be careful to show why they have taken certain measures.
A full copy of the Winter Plan for Adult Social Care for 2020/21 can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/adult-social-care-coronavirus-covid-19-winter-plan-2020-to-2021/adult-social-care-our-covid-19-winter-plan-2020-to-2021