The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee today released an excoriating appraisal of the government’s handling of the social care sector during the coronavirus crisis

The committee stated that the government’s “slow, inconsistent, and at times negligent approach” to social care in the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the “tragic impact” of  “years of inattention, funding cuts and delayed reforms”, leaving the sector as a “poor relation” that has suffered badly in the pandemic. The committee demanding the government produce a “three-point plan” by September, ahead of the second wave, covering health, the economy, and procurement of medical supplies and equipment.

The PAC called out the “appalling error” committed when 25,000 patients were discharged from hospitals into care homes without ensuring all were first tested for Covid-19 – even after there was clear evidence of asymptomatic transmission of the virus.

It stated that thanks to the commitment of thousands of staff and volunteers and by postponing a large amount of planned work, the NHS was – just – able to weather the “severe and immense” challenges to health and social care services in England and meet overall demand for Covid-19 treatment during the pandemic’s April peak – “unfortunately, it has been a very different story for adult social care”.

The committee was particularly concerned about staff in health and social care “who have endured the strain and trauma of responding to Covid-19 for many months” and who are now expected to “cope with future peaks and also deal with the enormous backlogs that have built up”.

And it said failure to protect staff by providing adequate PPE has hit staff morale and confidence, while a lack of timely testing led to increased stress and absence. These same staff will be called upon in the event of a second peak and the NHS will need extra staff to deal with the backlog of treatment.

As well as its calls for a “second wave ready” plan, for health and the economy, the committee said it expects an account to be provided in September of the spending under “policies designed to create additional capacity quickly” which – while necessary, especially in the haste the government was acting in – have resulted in “a lack of transparency about costs and value for money”.

Professor Martin Green, chief executive of Care England, said: “This report makes a forensic analysis of many of the positives and negatives at the peak of the pandemic. We urge the government to implement the recommendations in order that the nation is better prepared for future spikes and also to ensure that social care is recognised as an intrinsic part of the health and social care system. Health and social care are but two sides of the same coin and cannot be treated as separate entities”.

“The adult social care sector has worked tirelessly to ensure the health and wellbeing of some of society’s most vulnerable. This work must not go unrecognised. This report sets out some sensible actions which will help the long-term sustainability of the adult social care sector and Care England will be keeping a close eye on the implementation of the recommendations. We hope that these recommendations will help lead us into a new integrated and stronger future with services centred around individuals and free of much of the excessive bureaucracy and neglect within government that has characterised the attitude to this sector for too long.”

Date published: July 29, 2020

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