As the applause from the front doors and balconies of the UK fades, and as we brace ourselves for a tough autumn and winter under a second wave, the care sector has kept going about its business in very difficult circumstances.
Leonard Cheshire is the UK’s largest charity provider of social care, supporting around 2,500 people at 120 residential services. The COVID-19 pandemic has provided multiple challenges to our organisation. These challenges are indicative of the most significant test we have faced in social care in a generation and the ongoing acquisition of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) remains a key issue of both safety and cost.
From the initial lockdown on 23 March, our staff have been remarkable; pivotal in the national battle against coronavirus and caring round the clock for vulnerable and disabled adults, often at risk to their own safety and peace of mind. Meanwhile, around £4m worth of PPE has been delivered to frontline staff by colleagues across Leonard Cheshire in weekly runs by staff from our Vauxhall head office.
Through ingenuity and sheer hard work, we are navigating our way through new patterns of procurement across a variety of sources – from multi-nationals to local hardware shops.
Leonard Cheshire has also raised £324,000 through the generosity of our supporters answering our emergency appeal for PPE.
Government aid in this area has been riddled with problems and bureaucracy. Local Resilience Forums (LRFs) were mobilised as part of its initial response to coronavirus but to date have proven frustrating and ineffective. There have been varying degrees of low stock available among the 38 LRFs in England and this lack of provision has set the tone for the summer as we were left to self-source while being stretched to the limit in controlling the spread of this deadly virus. The NHS Clipper service has also produced very little support.
In England, we obviously welcomed the Government’s injection of £3.2bn of new funding to local authorities, coupled with the introduction of a new Infection Control Fund announced on 14th May 2020. But we still face significant additional costs to ensure the safety of the people we support, from employing agency staff to securing adequate provision of PPE. These costs will continue into the winter and throughout the foreseeable future and continued financial support is required to ensure ongoing continuity of care for the most vulnerable.
There simply must be a more concise process that enables adult social care providers to receive COVID-19 related supplier relief from local authorities. Of the local government funders we have contacted, over half have not responded, and only 26% have offered any financial uplift.
Responding to our survey, over 50% of disabled people and unpaid carers have also said they have lost access to care since the start of the pandemic.
Disabled people are more likely to be disproportionately affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Our survey of disabled people and unpaid carers sought to identify the impact of coronavirus and the government’s measures. The survey is still running, however early indications reveal 56% have experienced changes to their care support. Similarly, the Research Institute for Disabled Consumers report that 50% of disabled people have lost access to care since the start of the pandemic. We are concerned that this suggests a worrying knock on effect and that care is being suspended at a much greater scale.
A sustainable, long-term funding solution is therefore essential to deal with impact of COVID-19 on social care providers.
Since the outbreak of the coronavirus, we are often having to source PPE from private suppliers at inflated prices. We are currently using 50,000 facemasks a week and are spending £400,000 on PPE every month.
The injection of an additional £1.6bn of new funding to local government to ensure the maintenance of adult social care during this challenging time is another unfortunate example of government support falling short.
Data collected by the Care Provider Alliance shows 65% of all providers had received no communication regarding uplift from local authorities since the government announced its first funding pledge of £1.6bn on the 19 March. As of 29 April, 102 of the 176 funders we contacted in England are yet to respond to our application for a 10% uplift. In London, 63% have not responded to our applications.
The process of applying for supplier relief due to COVID-19 is unclear, time-consuming, and complicated. Just a quarter of funders in England have offered Leonard Cheshire additional financial support, and only 16 have offered the 10% uplift we have requested. There is little consistency in how funding is given and at least five different mechanisms being used to give support, with over 40% of responses not resulting in additional funding.
A standardised 10% uplift awarded to providers would be more efficient and allow for much needed funds to be accessed quicker. In addition, there must also be a recognition that the impact of Covid-19 on social care providers will continue, necessitating an urgent, long-term sustainable solution to funding.
COVID-19 will continue to severely stretch the financial resilience of adult social care providers like Leonard Cheshire. Additional funding will ensure we continue to play a vital role in ensuring disabled people get the support they need, whilst alleviating the pressures on the NHS and local authorities.
We are calling for a central fund to ensure that social care providers can meet current and ongoing costs related to COVID-19. This must be coupled with a long-term strategy from the Government for the sustainable supply of PPE and a central funding mechanism to ensure the avoidance of supply issues experienced by social care providers during the height of the pandemic.
We have seen overwhelming public support for social care as it was recognised that, together with the NHS, the sector plays a key part in the frontline effort to safeguard vulnerable populations from COVID-19. Let’s maintain that early momentum when parity with the NHS appeared possible and we felt an equally important part of the frontline fight against COVID.
We therefore ask the government to refresh and streamline funding for this life saving asset as an absolute priority. For the sake of social care.
Hugh Fenn is executive director of UK services at Leonard Cheshire