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Social care executives have raised concerns about the end of Covid-19 funding for the sector.
Funding to help care providers fund infection control and Covid testing, and for the NHS to fund up to four weeks of free care for people discharged from hospital with support needs, ended March 31, as did winter resources to help providers recruit and retain staff as pressure mounts.
Though resources have always been time-limited, social care agencies have warned their removal poses significant risks to a fragile sector at the height of the recent Covid-19 wave.
“Extra pressure on the underfunded sector”
A spokesman for the Local Government Association said: “The loss of sources of funding for social care puts councils and providers on an even more unstable footing and shows how volatile the financial situation in social care is. This will only put further pressure on an underfunded sector.
“This pandemic is not over yet, social workers continue to do their utmost to protect those who seek social care with limited resources. To ensure people get the right care at the right time, and to give the NHS time and space, there is a need to ensure care providers and councils have the staff and capacity to cope with hospital discharges. With fewer resources, this is becoming increasingly difficult to implement.”
The Homecare Association raised particular concerns about the end of Infection Control and Testing Fundwhich should allow providers to make caregivers sick or be forced into self-isolation and allow care homes to increase staffing levels to minimize movement between homes and control transmission of the virus.
“The lack of available infection control funding poses a risk that caregivers cannot afford to isolate when Covid-19 is positive, especially as the cost of living escalates,” said Chief Executive Officer Dr. Jane Towson.
“We are hearing from providers who are currently on sick leave for up to 30% of their workforce and are therefore unable to provide care for the elderly and disabled in the community. Workers are only eligible for statutory sick pay after three days, and infection control funding is essential to help providers pay employees as close to full wages as possible during isolation. Most municipal home care fee rates are insufficient to cover the normal costs of home care, let alone the additional costs due to Covid-19.”
It called on the Government to restart funding, which has totaled £1.35bn for adult social care as of May 2020, with a further £288m allocated for testing.
Vacancies “amazingly high”
From a personnel perspective, UNISON issued similar warnings.
“Removing financial support for long-term care sickness benefits as the devastating cost-of-living crisis deepens and Covid rates soar is negligent and morally wrong,” said Social Welfare Director Gavin Edwards.
“With the number of vacancies in the care sector already staggering, the government should encourage and reward staff when they are doing the right thing by isolating and not making it impossible for them to put food on the table. Workers are already turning to food banks as budgets are stretched to the breaking point.
“Ministers must immediately reinstate the infection control fund and make care employers obligated to pay adequate sick pay. Anything else will drive more workers out of the sector and put lives and livelihoods at risk.”
The government has published updated guidelines on infection control and prevention in adult social carea addition to it states that employees should stay away from work if they test positive for Covid-19 or have any of the core systems (a new persistent cough, a high temperature, or a loss or change in their sense of taste or smell). They should only return after two negative lateral flow tests on consecutive days, at least five days after they have tested positive or developed symptoms.
Nursing homes should not normally need to restrict movement between homes but may be asked to do so by the local public health director or health protection team if there is a high local prevalence of Covid-19 or an outbreak in a home.
End of relief funding
Although the National Discharge Fund – worth nearly £3bn over the past two years – is designed to accelerate discharges by using the discharge assessment approach, which assesses people’s ongoing care and support needs after leaving hospital , ideally in their own home.
In a letter to health and social care leaders last month, NHS England and NHS Improvement (NHSE/I) encouraged them to continue with free care arrangements and to use other sources of funding such as the Better Care Fund. The BCF aims to promote the integration of health and social care, fund out-of-hospital care and improve hospital discharge, with the NHS to put £4.26 billion into local pooled funds between 2021-22.
But in the letter, NHSE/I Director of Community Health Matthew Winn admitted capacity could reduce in some areas following the redundancy.
“It is understood that in some areas the capacity for post-release services may decrease; However, local discharge schemes are mature in many areas and we would encourage local systems to continue to embed discharge to assess approaches where possible within local core funding, with the National Hospital Discharge Program continuing to provide guidance and support for systems to implement .”
the The Department of Health and Social Care has issued revised hospital discharge guidelineswho said it was up to local health and social care leaders to “agree on the discharge models that best meet local needs and are affordable within existing budgets.”
It added: “If local areas agree to fund a period of care (until a long-term needs assessment is carried out), arrangements should be made to ensure that no one is left without care, or – if necessary – an assessment of long-term care. Deadline requirement before the expiry of this deadline. This should also ensure that no carers are left without appropriate support or an assessment of their longer term needs (if required) at the end of this period.”