Worries over infection control funding and access to PPE

Jane Townson, UKHCA chief executive

Concerns are growing over whether the second round of infection control funds will be enough to last throughout winter, as well as access to free personal protective equipment (PPE) as promised by the government.

Giving evidence to a joint committee hearing this week, chief executive of the United Kingdom Homecare Association (UKHCA) Jane Townson said 75% of the first round of funding (£600m) was dedicated to care homes, with the remaining 25% to be used at the discretion of local authorities.

Townson told MPs homecare providers only saw half of the 25% – 13% of the £600m. The money, which was announced in May, was to help the care sector restrict the movement of staff between services to stop the spread of the virus.

Last month, the government provided a further £546m, which is due to last until March. However, Townson said the amount, lower than previously, had to last for longer and that providers were ‘not so optimistic’ it would be enough.

MPs from the science and technology and health and social care committees were told the biggest cost for providers was PPE. Despite, free PPE being provided to people in adult social care settings as part of the government’s winter plan, Townson said operators were ‘unable to access the quantities’ needed due to a lack of supplies. ‘That really needs to be addressed because PPE at the moment is the major additional cost apart from staffing,’ she said.

The joint committee, which is scrutinising the government’s response to the pandemic, is focusing on the social care sector, the impact on BAME communities, testing and contact tracing, modelling and the use of statistics, and the government’s communications and public health messaging.

Townson, who was giving evidence alongside Care Provider Alliance chair Kathy Roberts and Prof David Oliver, geriatric consultant at Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust, said homecare went into the pandemic with ‘low status and in a weakened condition’, and that knowledge of the sector in the Department of Health and Social Care was ‘quite weak’.

She raised concern for registered managers and the pressures they were under, particularly in care homes, with many providers worried about both litigation and their residents.

Townson called for a nationally mandated minimum payment fee rate for homecare and backed a demand from Roberts for a workforce strategy.

When asked by Labour MP Zarah Sultana if she had confidence in the government’s test and trace strategy, Townson replied: ‘Unfortunately not.’

Prof Oliver told the committee ‘underlying structural problems in the funding and staffing of social care’ before the pandemic were invisible but now in the ‘spotlight’.

He said: ‘I’d like to see the prime minister making good on his Queen’s speech promise to have a workable and sustainable cross-party solution to social care funding and provision by next year and it shouldn’t exclude unpaid carers…’