While the horrendous days of lockdown are far behind us, there is little doubt that the COVID pandemic rumbles on albeit in what one Professor of virology has termed a quieter phase.
This quieter phase has enabled the enquiry into the initial COVID outbreaks to move forward with some important lessons for the health and social care system as a whole emerging. In this blog we will look at some of the emerging lessons to be learnt from the COVID inquiry, and consider what these might mean for social care providers going forward.
Resilience and preparedness
Module one of the enquiry has covered the preparedness of the UK in terms of handling a pandemic like COVID. What we saw was that the preparations mainly focussed on a flu epidemic and failed, despite a mock up training day in the UK in 2016 which focussed on a potential outbreak of a coronavirus type that had previously affected countries in Asia, MERS, to consider other viral pandemics.
What this mock-up identified was the need to increase testing capabilities and identify ways of undertaking isolation of cases. Clearly, the lesson learnt for the wider health and social care community here is the need to be better prepared for known and unknown threats.
For social care providers this means ensuring you retain policies and procedures which focus on managing future pandemics or epidemics. Providers also need to consider how they can immediately put such plans into action. For residential providers, this might mean having an isolation strategy, signage and for all providers having personal protective equipment (PPE) available.
Of course one of the core lessons from the pandemic was to ensure that PPE, which should not be overstocked, is rotated so it is not found to be out of date when needed. Other items which people will need access to include liquid soap, paper towels and hand gels and providers should keep a good stock level of these as well as undertaking stock rotation.
All providers can ensure they maintain a level of training and preparedness in their staff teams by ensuring they stay up to date with infection prevention and control processes especially the use of PPE and good hand hygiene as well as isolation practice in residential settings.
Impact on Care
There is no doubt that caring for people affected by COVID-19 had a massive impact on every aspect of care provision in health and social care. We saw in care settings there was a rush to implement Do Not Attempt Cardio-Pulmonary Resuscitation (DNACPR) Orders and treatment escalation plans for residents in elderly care facilities particularly.
This rush led to some poor decision making and accusations of ageism. Planning forward, social care providers need to consider making DNACPR part of their normal discussions with Service Users, perhaps by prompting the GP, as well as ensuring advance care planning is up to date and includes any decisions the individual has made about their future care and treatment.
Care was also affected by the lack of availability of care staff who were also affected by COVID infection. This requires providers plan for staff shortages by keeping on top of recruitment and upskilling non-care staff, e.g. to help with food and drink and moving and handling.
While the inquiry has yet to examine vaccination, there is little doubt the UK was underprepared not only for making the vaccinations but for rolling them out. In social care settings this autumn, providers need to ensure they are encouraging Service Users and frontline staff, who are all eligible, to have their COVID boosters as well as their flu vaccination.
One of the biggest threats facing the social care sector this autumn and winter is that people are becoming tired and apathetic about COVID and flu. Providers need to work with their staff to ensure they understand how COVID, like flu, remains a real threat for the more vulnerable members of society.
Providers have a duty to ensure they have learnt some of the lessons from the pandemic. Learning lessons is not just about understanding what happened, it is about planning and preparing to stop the same mistakes happening again.
While individual providers can do nothing to prevent another pandemic, what they can and must do is ensure that they can mitigate its effects when the next outbreak arises - as it inevitably will.
One way to prepare for the oncoming autumn and winter is to source your policies and procedures etc. from a reputable consultancy, like Bettal. Bettal offer both policies and procedures on: Crisis Management and Service Continuity Planning, Influenza (flu) vaccination, and COVID Prevention among others.
It is then for providers to review the policies and procedures, adapt any that need adapting for local use and to roll out the documentation to the wider team and ensure they are implemented.
If you would like to know more, browse our website, or get in touch:
Peter Ellis MA MSc BSc(Hons) RN
Bettal Quality Consultancy