Health Foundation: New analysis highlights failure to protect social care from COVID-19

The Health Foundation has said new analysis reveals the impact the pandemic has had on social care in England.

The independent charity says the findings provide further evidence that the government acted too slowly and did not do enough to support social care users and staff.

As the UK prepares for potential future waves of the virus, the Health Foundation warns that social care must be given equal priority to the NHS, including a greater focus on domiciliary care, and that more fundamental reform of the social care system is needed to address the longstanding policy failures exposed by COVID-19.

Dr Jennifer Dixon, Chief Executive at the Health Foundation, said: “The pandemic has had a profound impact on the lives of people receiving and providing social care. The social care system has lacked adequate investment for decades and successive governments have not faced up to the issues facing the sector. COVID-19 has highlighted the extent of this neglect, with tragic consequences. Against this backdrop, the government’s response has been too little, and come too late. The consequences are now clear and in plain sight.”

“Government must learn now from the first phase of the pandemic to invest in and support social care. In the next year we must see long-overdue reform which should include action to improve pay and conditions for staff, stabilise the care provider market, increase access to publicly funded services, and provide greater protection for people against social care costs. The Dilnot proposals, to cover catastrophic social care costs, are already on the statute book in the 2014 Care Act and are ‘oven ready’ – the government could make a start to reform there. The Prime Minister’s commitment a year ago to fix social care once and for all, needs to be honoured now.”

The Health Foundation’s analysis also highlights potential unmet health need among social care users over the course of the pandemic and presents new evidence around the factors that might have contributed to the spread of the virus in care homes.

In a statement the charity said “The analysis also found that discharges from hospitals to residential care homes decreased in England during March and April. However, over the same period, discharges from hospitals to nursing homes increased to 120% of the historic average, though we don’t know whether these led to subsequent outbreaks of COVID-19. Decisions to discharge patients from hospitals were made in part to reduce the risks of exposure to COVID-19 for those medically fit and stable, and in part to free up space in hospitals for an expected surge of new patients with COVID-19. These difficult decisions were made in an urgent and uncertain context but may have played a role in transferring risk to a poorly supported social care system lacking the right protection, including major issues with access to testing and PPE.”