In a column for Home Care Insight, Kate Terroni, CQC Chief Inspector of Adult Social Care, explains the regulator’s role in supporting social care providers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
I want to start by saying that I know we are in incredibly difficult times and the COVID-19 pandemic has put more pressure on our sector than any of us could have imagined, but I am constantly reminded of how resilient and strong the social care workforce is when I see and hear of the many examples of dedication to keeping people safe.
The care sector has been especially hard hit by COVID-19 because of the impact on older and vulnerable groups, and at CQC we have gone outside our usual role to support the sector at this time. You have told us that the two main issues for you have been testing and access to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). In response to this, we provided administrative support to the Department of Health and Social Care with testing and have facilitated test bookings for more than 25,000 care staff before longer term delivery was taken on by NHS England.
The Government has given money to local authorities to help them deal with COVID-19 – this money needs to get to care providers immediately.
We have also had conversations with you in care homes and home care services to find out where there are shortages of PPE and helped contact local authorities to get the supplies to the front line. In some cases, when providers told us they were running dangerously low, our inspectors have even arranged for loans of PPE from nearby care providers.
This month is an important one at CQC as we have launched our Emergency Support Framework (ESF) to help us have those structured conversations with you, to offer support as well as remain confident that people are receiving safe care during these unprecedented times. You will recall that in March we announced we were stopping our routine inspections to help limit the spread of the virus, meaning we had to adapt our approach. The ESF means we can have structured conversations with you, very much through the safety lens, about how you are responding to the challenges of COVID-19 and talk to you about the barriers you are facing. We are using the information gathered through these conversations to inform the conversations we are having with government and to inform regional and local discussions about risk and what action needs to be taken to support providers to deliver essential services to people with care and support needs.
We are also working with the Office for National Statistics (ONS) to provide weekly updates on death in care homes, which we are only able to do because of the vital information providers give us. We want to be open and transparent in the way we work and help providers and the public have the clearest picture of what is going on in the sector.
The crucial role of social care which is being more recognised now must lead to an improvement in the status, reward, recognition and career opportunities for people.
In addition to doing all that we can in practical terms to support the sector, as an independent regulator it is essential that we also use our distinct voice to highlight our concerns. We have made clear that social care providers were already under too much pressure, without enough resources, even before this deadly pandemic hit society. The Government has given money to local authorities to help them deal with COVID-19 – this money needs to get to care providers immediately. As we have stated for many years now, we need a long-term sustainable funding solution for social care and not just a temporary fix.
Social care entered this pandemic without having stable foundations; without long term funding and with significant issues with workforce, with Skills for Care reporting vacancy rates of 122,000 and turnover up to 37%. Social care needs to have both of these issues resolved as we move forward. The crucial role of social care which is being more recognised now must lead to an improvement in the status, reward, recognition and career opportunities for people who choose to come into care and remain in it.
I have seen the warmth and the depth of the appreciation that the general public have for care workers during this crisis, for example the huge numbers turning out to Clap for Carers every week. But we must recognise that care workers are not just “key workers” during a pandemic, they are always key workers and must continue to get the recognition they deserve.
The learning from this crisis must be that social care and the NHS are two parts of the same whole. Lives will be saved not just by protecting the NHS, but by protecting social care.