Social care sector will need supporting, MPs told

Keith Willett, director for acute care at NHS England

MPs have been told the opportunity to support and strengthen social care must be taken so hospital beds can be made available to receive coronavirus patients.

Giving evidence to the Health and Social Care Committee on Tuesday afternoon (17 March), NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens told MPs the sector had been ‘under enormous pressure for a long time’ but going into the Covid-19 pandemic social care would play a key role in helping free up around 15,000 hospital beds that would be needed to take in coronavirus patients.

During the session on preparations for coronavirus, Keith Willett, director for acute care at NHS England, said care homes were in a ‘privileged position’ because of their stable structures that are set up to protect and isolate.

He said: ‘My concern is the wider number of people who will be at home isolating for a considerable time. Some of those [people] the local authorities know well and they will be receiving social care support and that’s wonderful but clearly we need to look at the social care workforce and make sure we’re supporting them.’

On Monday, the UK government advised people against all unnecessary social contact and travel. The advice was directed at everyone, but especially for the over 70s, pregnant women and those with health conditions.

By the weekend those with the most serious health conditions should be shielded from social contact for around 12 weeks, the government has said.

Willett pointed out there would be people already socially isolated even before such measures were in place.

‘Loneliness is one of the things we have discussed around this table before and here is another opportunity for us to use our wider support…to pick up some of those problems,’ he said. ‘This is about everybody doing the right thing…people need to understand where we need to be as a nation on this.’

Willett added care homes and domiciliary providers were helping ‘put us in a much stronger position’.