People most at risk should have been prioritised, MPs told

Professor Martin Green, Care England chief executive

Care homes should have been a central focus in pandemic planning, a group of MPs have been told.

Giving evidence to a health and social care committee on Tuesday (19 May) morning, Professor Martin Green, Care England chief executive, told MPs from the start of the pandemic the focus was on the NHS, which meant care homes had their medical support withdrawn, as well as disruption to the supply chain of personal protective equipment.

‘Given care homes are full of people with underlying health conditions I think we should have looked at focusing on where the people who were at most risk were, rather than thinking about particular organisations when we were prioritising where we put our energies,’ he told MPs.

He said care home residents needing hospital intervention may not have not received it.

Latest Office for National Statistics figures showed care home deaths in England and Wales fell to 1,666 in the week ending 8 May, from 2,423 the previous week.

Despite this drop in the number of deaths, Prof Green said issues in the sector remained, including testing of care staff and residents for Covid-19.

While testing was improving, there were ‘significant time delays’ in receiving results, sometimes eight to ten days.

‘One thing about testing, it is not a one-time occupation,’ he said. ‘We need to have regular testing, it has to be done two or three times a week, if possible, so we can get on top of this… We need a really clear approach to testing, which needs to be very, very swift and also regular.’

Vic Rayner, National Care Forum executive director, pointed out the importance of repeat testing ‘to manage outbreaks’ within care homes and to identify where and when infections might have come into properties. She said regular and frequent testing with results in a timely fashion would allow homes to make clear decisions.

During the evidence session, Association of Directors of Adult Social Services president James Bullion, raised concerns about testing, distribution of PPE and homecare.

He said: ‘In relation to PPE, I was very concerned in March and I am still concerned actually that PPE is the single biggest and most expensive factor in the costs of dealing with Covid in adult social care both for providers and local authorities.

‘We still don’t have an effective supply chain although it has improved since March… Some of our problems around transmission are not doubt related to PPE and sadly some of the deaths to.’

Central government has provided councils with £3.2bn of funding for local services and last week Prime Minster Boris Johnson announced £600m for infection control in care and nursing homes.

But Bullion said the infection control funding did not recognise homecare, where clients were ‘furloughing’ their care while they protect themselves.

‘If I have a gentle criticism of the recent funding for infection control, we are actually tagging on home support in that recent plan to say “oh by the way councils try and do something with some of this money for home support”.

‘It’s completely inadequate, the response so far. We do need a separate plan for homecare to protect staff and people because we are not finished with waves of Covid in my view.’