Care homes promised Covid-19 ‘taskforce’ and universal testing

Gemma Mitchell

A new “taskforce” has been set up by ministers to help the social care sector in England navigate the ongoing coronavirus crisis.

The group will oversee the implementation of the government’s “social care action plan” and will work to prevent further Covid-19 outbreaks in care homes over the next year.

The announcement was paired with a pledge for more virus testing capacity across the adult social care sector.

“The creation of this taskforce should mark the first step in tackling the gulf between health and social care”

Niall Dickson

The government said all care homes across England will now be able to access “whole care home testing” for residents and staff, whether they have symptoms or not.

The offer had first been prioritised for care homes looking after over-65s and people with dementia.

Going forward, all adult care homes in England will be eligible for whole home testing, including specialist learning disability and mental health facilities.

Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock said the extended testing offer would benefit residents and staff in more than 6,000 additional care homes.

Matt Hancock

He added: “It will mean that right across the care home sector everyone will have the certainty and confidence of a high quality coronavirus test, whether symptomatic or not, certainty about whether or not they’re carrying the virus and confidence that they are doing the right thing both to protect themselves and others.”

The extension of testing comes after data from the Care Quality Commission (CQC) last week showed a 134% increase in deaths among people with a learning disability and/or autism between 10 April and 15 May this year compared with the same period last year.

Care providers notified the CQC of 386 deaths during the stated period in 2020, 206 of which were as a result of suspected or confirmed Covid-19. Around half of the people who died were receiving care from community-based adult social care services and the other half from residential social care settings.

In response to the significant increase in deaths, the CQC’s chief inspector of adult social care Kate Terroni said at the time that access to Covid-19 testing “could be key to reducing infection and saving lives”.

The CQC is among the organisations that will be represented on the new social care taskforce announced yesterday.

Others include Public Health England, Care Providers Alliance, Local Government Association, Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS), Healthwatch England, Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, Cabinet Office and Department of Health and Social Care.

David Pearson, former president of ADASS and the social care Covid-19 lead for the NHS, has been appointed as the independent chair of the taskforce, which will focus on infection and prevention control measures, testing, and the effective deployment of the workforce.

He said the work of the taskforce would “play an important part in ensuring we are doing everything we can to reduce the risk of transmission of Covid-19 in the sector, both for those who rely on care and support and the social care workforce”.

“This taskforce will provide a real opportunity for all partners to work together”

Vic Rayner

Niall Dickson, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, welcomed the appointment of Mr Pearson, adding: “His local authority experience is matched by deep understanding of the NHS and the challenge of creating a joined-up service.”

He said the new focus on social care should be followed by commitments from the government for reforms of the sector to ensure it was placed on an equal footing with the NHS for the long term.

“The creation of this taskforce to support social care should mark the first step in tackling the gulf between health and social care, a gulf which has always been there but which has been cruelly exposed during this pandemic,” added Mr Dickson.

“However, we have had false dawns before. If this is to mean anything we need commitments from government to reform social care by bringing health and care together and funding social care, not with emergency handouts but with a sustainable and guaranteed programme of investment.”

Niall Dickson

Vic Rayner, executive director of the National Care Forum, also welcomed the announcements.

She said a timeline needed to be put in place for regular and repeat access to testing for care homes, adding: “It is proving to be an absolutely essential tool in the fight against Covid-19”.

“I welcome the announcement of a social care taskforce that will bring together the multiple strands of work that have been developed to address the impact of Covid 19 on those receiving social care,” she added.

“This taskforce will provide a real opportunity for all partners to work together to ensure a coordinated focus on the core essential of managing this virus, and bring energy and attention to the way in which Covid is impacting social care now – and critically in planning and preparation for the future.”

Care home providers can order tests for residents and staff through an online portal.

Gemma Mitchell

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