MPs approve compulsory vaccinations in the care home sector

We recently commented on the government’s plans for vaccinations to become mandatory for all care home workers. Yesterday, MPs approved this initiative despite a small number of dissenting voices within the Conservative rank and file. Passing with a majority of 319 votes to 246, anyone working in a care home registered with the Care Quality Commission in England must have had two vaccine doses by October, unless they have a medical exemption.

The feuding within the Conservative party appears to focus on the lack of any published impact assessment of the policy before the vote (Health Minister, Helen Whately told MPs this was being worked on), something which many argue is imperative when balancing risks and imposing such measures on an entire (and already stretched) healthcare sector particularly in a group of workers which has a very low take up of the vaccine.

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Removing COVID restrictions – what will be the effect on the Social Care Sector?

The vast majority of COVID-19 restrictions are set to be removed in England on 19 July.  It’s worth noting that deaths in care homes with the involvement of COVID-19 have reduced substantially in recent months – see here for the most recent ONS statistics on reported deaths from care homes. But will this downward trend continue once restrictions are removed generally across the population, especially in view of rising infection levels? 

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COVID-19 vaccinations – the right for healthcare workers to decide and the impact on social care

Most people who followed the press coverage in the UK following the public announcement of an ambitious national vaccination rollout would have foreseen the possibility for tension to exist between the public drive for everyone to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and the right of autonomy to refuse. The number of “anti-vax” conspiracy theories circulating online is simply staggering and some of the farcical claims really do beggar belief, notwithstanding the government’s attempts to allay these concerns. However, whilst many are content for individuals to make their own informed (or otherwise) decision, it becomes a far more emotive subject when the workers concerned are in the healthcare sector. Chances are, the majority of people reading this will have been affected directly or indirectly by COVID-19 and many more will have vulnerable or elderly relatives who rely upon the care and unwavering dedication of healthcare workers but it may not be a particularly comforting thought if the person providing that care to a vulnerable loved one were to refuse the vaccine.

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The Rise of Telemedicine

Telemedicine is a general term that refers to the provision of medical care at a distance through telecommunications technology.

Synchronous telemedicine is performed in real time, such as a video call between a patient and a provider. It can also be provider-to-provider such as when an A&E doctor consults with a remote cardiologist on the best treatment for a patient.

Asynchronous telemedicine includes “store-and-forward” technologies, such as online portals that allow patient–provider or provider–provider communications. It also includes chat bots such as those designed to help a patient decide whether to get tested for the virus that causes COVID-19 and remote monitoring of patients through wearable or implantable devices.

Advantages

Telemedicine comes in many shapes and sizes and offers many advantages over the traditional healthcare visit. Two key drivers of health and social care policy in the UK over the last decade have been related to patient convenience and controlling the growing budgetary pressures.  

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Practical steps care homes ought to be taking in light of the Government’s mandatory vaccination announcement

According to reports in the media this week, Whitehall sources are saying it is shortly about to be announced that vaccination is to be made compulsory for care home staff caring for the elderly and vulnerable and looked at for NHS staff.

This move follows a consultation by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) launched in April amidst concerns raised by figures showing there have been over 40,000 deaths in care homes due to COVID-19 and a low uptake of the vaccine amongst care home staff.

International Trade Secretary Liz Truss has told the BBC that the government’s announcement of its decision on mandatory vaccination for care home staff was “very imminent.”

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Social care reform, deaths in care and the pandemic

The Queen’s speech was delivered to both Houses of Parliament on 11 May 2021 with a focus upon protecting the health of the nation and economic growth. Criticism has been made however, of the lack of a concrete commitment to address the long-standing funding issues that have plagued the care sector with a brief mention only made within the speech that “proposals on social care reform will be brought forward”.  This appears to follow a lack of agreement between No 10 and the Treasury regarding a strategy to limit the amounts pensioners have to pay towards their own care. 

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Care home visits: where do you stand?

From 12 April 2021 new guidance was brought in by the Government on care home visiting. It applies to care homes for working age and for older adults in England.

Every care home resident can nominate up to two named visitors who can enter for regular visits and those visitors are to be subject to rapid lateral flow testing before each visit. The visitors are also required to wear PPE and follow infection control measures whilst in the home. Physical contact is to be kept to a minimum.

Whilst this guidance is a change from the guidance in place prior to 12 April 2021, the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) questioned whether the care homes regulator, the Care Quality Commission has sufficient awareness of compliance with visiting guidance and, in fact, has gone as far as suggesting that the CQC has had an ‘astonishing’ lack of awareness on compliance following the JCHR’s own investigations into compliance.

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Time to prioritise the mental health of our care workers?

As the pandemic continues, more statistics are coming to light in respect of the wider impact COVID-19 has had, not least on the mental health of frontline care workers. A survey undertaken by the trade union GMB found that 75% of care workers said that their work during this pandemic has led to their mental health being negatively affected. The survey found that many felt their mental health had declined during the second wave of the pandemic, with whose who were only entitled to statutory sick pay reporting lower mental health scores. 

The Worldwide Health Organisation (WHO) Regional Office for Europe recently produced a short film with healthcare workers discussing the impact the pandemic has had on their mental health, as well as the challenges they have faced, whilst providing care throughout for their patients. The main mental health consequences raised were loneliness, elevated stress levels or anxiety, insomnia and depression. There is no doubt that those providing frontline care throughout, have borne the brunt of the pandemic. Care workers have continued to provide care and support to their patients and the wider public throughout the pandemic, bravely facing the challenges this has thrown at them. 

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CQC publishes report “Protect, respect, connect – decisions about living and dying well during COVID-19”

The CQC has completed its review of  ‘do not attempt cardiopulmonary resuscitation’ decisions during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and has published its findings on 18 March 2021 CQC report – Protect, respect, connect. It has, rightly, received much publicity which will hopefully mean that the recommendations contained in the report will be followed.

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