The Relatives & Residents Association is calling for PPE to be made available free of charge to care providers for all who need it: staff, residents and visitors. Lack of PPE and competition for it has meant that the most vulnerable suffer. Older people and those who look after them continue to be at the back of the queue.
Judy Downey, Chair of the R&RA, said:
“Being forced to pay and compete for PPE contradicts the basic ethos of public health: to protect everyone in society regardless of status. Discrimination against the care sector in the supply of PPE and testing must stop. As a principle of effective infection control, the public health budget must now pay for the PPE and testing of all staff, residents and users of care regardless of their ownership status. Why should those working in or receiving care services outside the NHS continue to be penalised?”
1. The raison d’etre of public health, more than any other public service, is public protection from epidemics and infections, regardless of individual wealth, capacity or status. The Government’s policies and subsequent actions to achieve this should, therefore, be predicated on the protection of the entire population and, of course, that of the most vulnerable with as much speed and efficiency as possible.
2. We now need a renewed, better organised and effective public health response in preparation for a second wave, with centralised purchasing of PPE managed by local public health agencies to ensure effective distribution. The care sector cannot continue to be treated as collateral damage or its staff and services as second class citizens. Just as the Chancellor’s furloughing strategy did not distinguish between types of ownership or levels of profitability, it seems anomalous that those providing care or health services outside the NHS should continue to be subject to the laws of the market in protecting their clients and their workforce.
3. Public health protection for care services must come out of the public purse, in the same way as other communicable disease prevention measures. While it appears to be clear, albeit with gaps, that NHS staff and patients are not expected to bear these additional costs, those outside the NHS appear to have become and remain subordinate afterthoughts in terms of the distribution and receipt of PPE and testing.
4. The delay and confusion of Government responses at all levels have continued to complicate the provision of both supplies of PPE and efficient and effective local testing. As we know from those working in these sectors, many providers are still struggling to receive all the equipment and testing they need. Government agencies still appear unaware both of the role and scale of the care sector with at least three times the number of beds, a workforce larger than the NHS and an intrinsically at risk population. We have paid and are paying a high price for this ignorance.
5. The financial impact and strain on providers has been immense, not to mention the deliberate diversion of supplies from the care sector to the NHS and the feverish competition between rival bidders in the same country. A further consequence of the chaotic response was not only felt by providers, many residents of care homes have been charged for additional costs incurred as a result of the pandemic, sometimes being required to pay as much as £200 in extra fees for each month. Most families are fearful of querying these bills, are unable to bear extra costs and are unaware of their contractual and other consumer rights, as illustrated by calls to our Helpline. People do understand that providers have had additional costs to bear but feel placed in an impossible position.
6. Learning from the last wave must ensure that those using care services outside the NHS are no longer penalised or ignored. Being part of the charitable, private or independent sector does not imply paying for HIV medication, sanitation or being excluded from a Covid 19 or flu public vaccination programme. We pay for these services out of taxation. The public health budget must and should supply and pay for the PPE and regular testing of all staff and users of care. These are the basic prerequisites for a safe and fair system of infection control. As a matter of principle, it should, in addition, compensate independent care providers for all the additional costs they have incurred as a result of C-19.
Notes to editor:
1. The Relatives & Residents Association (R&RA) speaks up and speaks out on behalf of older people needing care. It is the only national charity for older people providing a daily Helpline, using the unique perspective provided by relatives and friends.
2. Our statement is based on the intelligence we receive from families and friends about the realities of PPE in care homes and the struggle of many providers to obtain a consistent, reliable and high quality supply. Older people in care have become and still remain afterthoughts.
3. The financial strain and impact on providers has also had a major effect on residents, staff and their families, adding to their trauma and anxiety while separated from close relatives and friends.