After the Nation's public and press have focused heavily on the risks within social care, this week the Government published their COVID-19 adult social care action plan, which sets out their plans for controlling the spread of infection in care settings and supporting care providers working under unprecedented conditions. The action plan recognises that millions of people rely on adult social care every day and that the service must remain resilient in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The challenges facing the sector – in terms of the testing and reporting of positive cases, managing staff and ensuring adequate PPE – will not have gone unnoticed by anyone viewing the news and government briefings over the last fortnight.
A key theme of the action plan is the provision of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). The government recognises that it has been difficult for many providers to access PPE through their normal channels, due to unprecedented demand and export bans.
The action plan's main provisions in respect of PPE are as follows:
- The government is stepping in to support the supply and distribution of PPE to the care sector for the first time. As of w/c 6 April 2020, they will provide essential PPE supplies to 58,000 different social care providers, including care homes and hospices.
- The government PPE plan released on 10 April 2020 includes guidance for usage in the social care sector. Further guidance, training and case studies aimed at care providers are expected to follow from Public Health England shortly.
- The government have put in place initial measures to supply emergency PPE. Social care providers across England received an emergency drop of 7 million PPE items, so that every CQC-registered provider received at least 300 face masks to meet immediate needs. To support the existing supplier network, the government has released 23 million items of PPE to designated wholesalers for onward sale to social care providers.
- Starting w/c 6 April 2020, the government authorised the release of a further 34 million items of PPE across 38 Local Resilience Forums (LRFs). These stocks are intended primarily for social care and primary care health services, and most are being distributed through local authorities. Further deliveries will be made to LRFs to meet priority needs.
- The government has mobilised a National Supply Disruption Response (NSDR) system to respond to emergency PPE requests including:
- a 24/7 helpline for providers who have an urgent requirement for PPE; and
- an express freight desk solution to pick, pack and deliver an allocation of PPE to the provider once the case has been approved.
All care providers that can show an immediate urgent need for PPE and that they have not been able to access this through the wholesalers or their LRF should be able to receive emergency PPE through this route.
- A Parallel Supply Chain has been developed to support the normal supply chain and to improve speed and reliability of delivery. The PSC will take orders directly from providers and dispatch directly to them. The government is working with e-commerce experts to launch a new web-based system for procuring PPE; this is expected to be rolled out over the coming weeks.
- The government have also set up a new unit to identify and buy PPE supplies from across the globe, as well as encouraging UK manufacturers to produce PPE in a national call to action.
Ensuring a supply of appropriate PPE to protect both residents and staff has been a significant challenge for care providers since the beginning of the pandemic, and the government has faced growing concern over the lack of gowns and masks available in health and social care settings. The action plan is a welcomed step forward in management of PPE provision nationally, although significant challenges remain regarding managing infection control in care homes.
If you would like further information with regards to these issues, or require input from our specialist Regulatory Healthcare Team, please do not hesitate to get in touch with Vikki Woodfine and Kate Kay.