Care sector warned over rising infection rates

iStock - Haydar Dogramaci

Rising infection rates among the care home workforce risks spreading to residents and possibly other parts of the sector, the Department of Health and Social Care has warned.

In a letter to providers, Stuart Miller, director of adult social care delivery at DHSC, said rising Covid-19 cases across the UK were being ‘reflected in care homes too’. Daily confirmed cases of coronavirus across the UK population was 3,300 yesterday (Sunday 13 September).

Last week, Public Health England reported an increase in notifications of Covid-19 cases in care homes. ‘Testing data has also shown an increase in the number of positive results,’ the letter said. ‘Currently, the infections are mainly affecting the workforce but clearly there is a risk the virus will spread to care home residents, or to other parts of the care sector.

‘Unfortunately, in some care homes with recent outbreaks, this does appear to have occurred, with residents also becoming infected.’

The letter, which was also addressed to local authority chief executives and directors of adult social care, urged local organisations to take ‘necessary action’ to prevent and limit outbreaks.

Miller highlighted the importance of regular testing and consistent use of personal protective equipment. ‘These are two of the most effective ways to stop the virus in its tracks,’ his letter said.

However, the rollout of the repeat testing programme has been delayed and last week Scottish Care said it had become ‘increasingly evident’ there had been disruption and delay.

A spokesperson for provider HC-One told CM, in line with the increase in community cases, it had ‘seen a small increase in the number of positive cases’, predominately among colleagues, underlying the importance of the weekly testing programme.

Care England chief executive Professor Martin Green said: ‘Testing is critical, but the bottom line is that the government’s testing regime is not working and not delivering the plans that the prime minister has set out. As the largest representative body for independent providers of adult social care, Care England has always tried to work with DHSC and we are both in agreement that testing is key.’

DHSC said there was ‘no significant’ backlog and it could send out test kits within several days of orders being placed.

The letter said: ‘In response to concerns raised with us about turnaround times, we have taken action to address the issue, including a new process for prioritising care home tests in laboratories. We will continue to monitor this closely and take further action if needed.’

DHSC will soon publish an adult social care winter plan, setting out the support and resources that will be made available nationally, as well as describing the actions for local areas.

National Care Forum executive director Vic Rayner said as well as the winter plan, government proposals for renewal of the £600m infection control fund, which comes to an end on 30 September, was needed as the money had been a ‘lifeline’ for its members.

She said: ‘It has, amongst other things, included the funding to provide staff with their full salary whilst self-isolating for 14 days, and to enable the exclusive use of agency and specialist staff who would otherwise move between services.

‘In two days’ time (16 September) organisations will start to have to make key decisions about whether or not they can continue to operate these practices with no guarantee that any additional funding will be available to sustain these high level costs. How can they plan a detailed rota for care after the 30th September? How can they commit to pay staff to do the right thing when they have no guaranteed funding to facilitate this?

‘The government cannot delay a day longer in telling care providers what the situation is around future funding – this is not just about money – this is about people. We need answers now – the clock is ticking…’