While we can prepare and have contingency plans in place for many challenging scenarios, the circumstances being experienced right now are like nothing we could realistically have readied ourselves for.
That said, we are tackling this pandemic head on and I’m immensely proud of our whole adult care sector – both back office and front-line within the county council and our care provider partners who have stepped up without question to support people and carers. Our priority remains to provide high-quality service continuity for all our service users. We know that giving certainty and reassurance to our care sector during this current climate is of fundamental importance.
With that in mind, I recently wrote to all of our homecare agencies, care homes and other community-based contracted care providers to thank them, offer our support and guidance and ask for their co-operation in this most testing time.
And I am delighted that this letter has been commended by the UK Homecare Association and shared throughout the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) as one of the first commissioner letters offering certainty and support to our providers.
We have also written to all our social care service users. And to make sure we’re reaching those who could be worried about getting out to collect supplies, we’ve also taken simple but vital measures such as writing to faith groups and supermarkets. We’ll also be conducting fewer annual care reviews and prioritising responding to changes in people’s circumstances because of the pandemic.
With our £26m share of the £1.6bn Government has made available to local authorities to help respond to COVID-19 pressures across all services, we can provide more support for our workforce and to services on which the most vulnerable depend.
I have advised our care employers to continue to pay their staff in full if they cannot work due to COVID-19. We’re also recommending that any workers on zero-hours contracts are paid for the average of their last three months’ hours up to a maximum of 37 hours per week. We have then underwritten the backfill, redeployment and overtime costs of remaining staff plus reasonable other expenditure during the pandemic, paid on demand and on trust on a monthly basis.
As a lead commissioner, we want to provide an environment which enables our care sector to continue to thrive when the pandemic has passed. We understand we not only need to do the right thing by our care workers during the crisis but must have a vibrant sector for the 20,000 who rely on it when it is over.
Our dedicated provider support hotline and website, hosted by Hertfordshire Care Providers Association (HCPA), has been universally welcomed, and we’ll be working with HCPA on a recruitment campaign signposting candidates to local care companies. The daily updates and communication channels to our care sector have been widely appreciated. We’re also developing a free online training offer for successful candidates to prepare them for work.
This is all because, at its peak, coronavirus may confine 20% of our workforce to their homes. During this time we believe around half of uncovered shifts due to sickness will be covered through reprioritisation of care tasks and half through redeployment, overtime and recruitment – amounting to 1,000 extra care workers.
Back to the present, and one of the most pressing issues right now is the number of people needing acute hospital care. During March, we successfully prevented many hospital admissions and, where possible, urgently discharged patients. But projections show that significantly more will need hospital care and so more wards will be reassigned for this purpose.
In our letter to care agencies and providers, we suggest a number of actions which we believe important for councils following the government’s instructions on COVID-19 hospital discharge. The relevant changes for adult social care only build on the partnership working we’ve been delivering for a number of years.
Further to this, our commissioning teams have been working to secure additional care home capacity and have block-booked a number of beds in local care homes. We also have a joint-working group in place and are considering recommissioning a number of now-vacant council-owned former care homes within weeks.
The landscape is changing constantly, so we’ve made sure we’re adaptable and willing to consider all options to safeguard the future of our care sector and its users’ health and wellbeing.
Iain MacBeath is director of adult care services at Hertfordshire CC