The new winter plan to combat the spread of COVID-19 was published on 18th September and one hopes the government will deliver. Following the catastrophe in care homes during the peak of the pandemic it is difficult to have any confidence in what the government plans given that guidance seems to change from day to day.
The plus side of the winter plan
On the plus side the government would appear to have learned the lesson about PPE. People will recall at the height of the pandemic providers PPE could not be obtained from any source in the UK and internationally. At that time NHS was given top priority with care services coming lower down the pecking order. One will never know how many fatalities resulted from the failure to have enough PPE.
It is good to hear people receiving adult social care and care workers with CQC registration will now receive free PPE. Let us hope that in the wake of a further mass outbreak of COVID, there is sufficient PPE to meet demand.
The appointment of a Chief Nurse for Adult Social Care to represent social care nurses and provide clinical leadership to the workforce is to be welcomed. Providers of social care need all the representation it can muster and hopefully bring about more trust and confidence in the NHS social care relationship.
The new Chief Nurse for Adult Social Care role will provide clinical and professional leadership, while upholding and raising standards among the care workforce. Recruitment will begin in October to ensure the department and sector can benefit from the professional expertise the new role will bring.
Local providers must restrict all but essential movement of staff between settings to reduce transmission, supported by an extra £546 million for the Infection Control Fund. This will help care providers pay staff full wages and enable staff to work in only one care home.
This brings the total funding for infection control measures in care homes to over £1.1 billion and underlines the government’s commitment to ensure adult social care has the resources it needs to keep residents and staff safe.
Training in infection control
The NHS is offering support on training to care homes. Under the direction of Local Resilience Forums, local authority public health departments and clinical commissioning groups (CCGs), CCG infection control nurses are “training the trainers” in care homes on the recommended approach to infection prevention control, personal protection equipment (PPE) usage and testing advice.
Strengthening and monitoring
The government is prepared to strengthen monitoring and regulation by local authorities and the CQC policies and procedures (Care Quality Commission), including asking them to take strong action where improvement is required, or staff movement is not being restricted. This can include restricting a service’s operation, issuing warning notices or placing conditions on a provider’s registration. Further details of how the winter plan will be enforced will be set out shortly.
The unveiling of the winter plan will be supported by the publishing of the Adult Social Care COVID-19 Support Taskforce report highlighting the effectiveness of the fund and the care home support package.
Difficulties with COVID-19 testing
The plan is designed to ensure that both symptomatic staff and symptomatic recipients of care are able to access COVID-19 testing, as soon as possible. As we all know by now there is a vast gap between the availability of testing and the demand for it. Although the government have stated that they will give priority to social care, many providers have reported they are having difficulty in getting staff tested.
The new winter plan is to be welcomed with support for PPE, infection control, the infection control fund and the appointment of a Chief Nurse for Adult Social Care. However, testing is critical to the safeguarding of service users and staff, and until the issue is resolved they will continue to be at risk of the virus.
Albert Cook BA, MA & Fellow Charted Quality Institute Managing Director Bettal Quality Consultancy