Emergency measures are to be introduced by the government this week to help the care workforce cope with the additional pressures caused by the coronavirus outbreak.
The measures in the coronavirus bill include allowing recently retired NHS staff and social workers to return to work without any impact on their pensions, along with extra employment safeguards allowing volunteers to leave their main jobs for four weeks to support the sector.
Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said: “By planning for the worst and working for the best we will get through this, but this is a national effort and we must all work together ‒ from businesses prioritising the welfare of their employees, to people thoroughly washing their hands.
“I also want to pay tribute to our brilliantly selfless NHS and social care staff who are working tirelessly to care for our friends and loved ones in this unprecedented period.”
The volunteer measures, which include providing a flat rate of compensation to offset lost earnings and expenses, could benefit over 3 million people who support health and social care.
Additionally, changes are to be made to the Care Act enabling councils to prioritise people with the greatest care needs and make the best of the adult social care workforce.
The announcement came as National Care Forum (NCF) executive chairman Vic Rayner called for greater government support to help tackle the virus.
She said: “Care providers are doing all they can to manage this pandemic, but often have very little to work with. Providers are taking their responsibilities very seriously to make sure their staff and the people they support are safe and protected. However, the government must do more to support the sector.”
The NCF leader urged the government to provide immediate access to personal protective equipment (PPE) for the social care workforce and the prioritising of testing of cares and service users to contain and manage the virus.
Martin Green OBE, CEO of Care England, added: “The sector is struggling to obtain the essential PPE and supplies that it needs. There is a lack of understanding at DHSC about the role of social care and thus the need to ensure that all our fantastic frontline staff are supported. Testing for staff and residents is a prerequisite and must be done as a matter of urgency.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “No wholesaler has been asked to prioritise the NHS over the care sector and every care provider will start receiving facemasks from the pandemic flu stock from today.
“We are working rapidly with wholesalers to ensure a longer-term supply of all personal protective equipment, including gloves, aprons, facemasks and hand sanitiser.”