The health secretary, Matt Hancock, has announced an almost doubling of the infection control fund for care homes in England in an attempt to stop mobile temporary staff spreading Covid-19 in the coming months. But care providers have warned the cash injection could be rendered redundant if testing and supplies of protective equipment falter.
Care operators used a £600m fund set up in May to hire extra permanent staff, pay workers’ wages when they were self-isolating and to buy up exclusivity among agency staff. It was due to wind up this month but Hancock has responded to campaigning from the care sector and added £546m to keep it running until March 2021.
The move, reported on Wednesday by the Guardian, comes amid a rise in infections in care homes, albeit from a low level, with higher numbers of staff testing positive than residents and in most cases, without virus symptoms.
Further announcements on the provision of emergency supplies of personal protective equipment and access to care homes were expected on Friday. Inspectors found last month some care homes had not been using PPE properly or in a few cases, at all.
“From the very beginning we have done everything possible to make sure our social care system is protected and has the resources it needs to keep our brilliant workforce and those they care for safe,” Hancock said. “This new funding of over half a billion pounds will support not only care home residents, but also some of the most vulnerable in society living at home and in supported living. I know this will give peace of mind to so many, and we will set out further detail in our adult social care winter plan this week.”
However, many in the sector did not accept Hancock’s statement that social care had been fully protected from the start of the pandemic, and pointed to the discharge of Covid-positive patients from hospitals into care homes, difficulties accessing PPE, and staff shortages caused by a chronic vacancy problem. They said these factors contributed to the spread of the virus in the early months of the pandemic. More than 15,000 people have died from confirmed or suspected Covid-19 in care homes in England.
Prof Martin Green, chief executive of Care England which represents the major chains, said he welcomed the money but said “short-term funds are not a substitute for the longer-term funding and support which the sector requires. Whilst the impact of such funds will be negated if other systems, like testing and PPE distribution falter over the coming weeks and months.”
The charity Age UK said the government’s winter social care action plan must balance infection control with allowing families access to their loved ones.
Caroline Abrahams, the charity’s director, said there were “dire consequences for care home residents, those with dementia especially, of being cut off from loved ones for long periods of time.” She added: “There is no doubt that some older people to whom this is happening are dying of sadness as a result.”