A House of Commons scrutiny committee has branded the government’s approach to social care during the COVID-19 pandemic as “slow, inconsistent and, at times, negligent”.
The Public Accounts Committee report said the government’s response had exposed the “tragic impact” of “years of inattention, funding cuts and delayed reforms”, which had left the sector as a “poor relation” that suffered badly during the pandemic.
Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the Committee, said: “The failure to provide adequate PPE or testing to the millions of staff and volunteers who risked their lives to help us through the first peak of the crisis is a sad, low moment in our national response. Our care homes were effectively thrown to the wolves, and the virus has ravaged some of them.
The committee said the discharge of 25,000 patients from hospitals into care homes without ensuring there was testing during the height of the crisis was an “appalling error”.
It expressed its concerns for staff “who have endured the strain and trauma of responding to COVID-19 for many months” who were now expected to “cope with future peaks and also deal with the enormous backlogs that have built up”.
The committee added the failure to provide adequate PPE and a lack of timely testing had hit staff morale and confidence.
It called on the government to form a “3-point plan” by September, ahead of a second wave, covering health, the economy and procurement of medical supplies and equipment.
Commenting on the report, UKHCA policy director Colin Angel said: “The report reflects the early chaos of the pandemic, with constantly changing guidance, inadequate availability of PPE and testing, and funding given to councils that failed to reach frontline care services.
“Home care providers and their staff have had an outstanding response to what happened but, in the future, it is essential government give them better support.
“The pandemic has exposed the vital need for reform. Social care must be treated as the equal partner of the NHS, and a sustainable system put in place, ready for what could be a difficult winter and in the longer term.”
Professor Martin Green, chief executive of Care England, said: “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.”
Vic Rayner, executive director at the National Care Forum, added: “The importance of the PAC report, and learning from other government committees is that it emphasises in the face of further outbreaks that both local and national government must never again view social care as an afterthought to health. The core functions that sit with government around access to PPE, testing, support for the workforce and the right level of funding must be central to the social care task force focus.”
The Department of Health and Social Care said it knows there is a need for a long-term solution for solution care and it will bring forward a plan that “puts social care on a sustainable footing to ensure reforms will “last long into the future”.
A spokesperson added: “Throughout this unprecedented global pandemic we have been working closely with the sector and public health experts to put in place guidance and support for adult social care.
“Alongside an extra £1.3 billion to support the hospital discharge process, we have provided 172 million items of PPE to the social care sector since the start of the pandemic and are testing all residents and staff, including repeat testing for staff and residents in care homes for over 65 or those with dementia.”