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Coronavirus care crisis.

The coronavirus pandemic has left companies that support older and disabled people in their own homes struggling to cope, their professional body says.

Care firms, many of which were already financially vulnerable, are now under severe pressure and need more protective equipment for staff and clearer guidance on protecting clients, the UK Home Care Association (UKHCA) says.

A £350bn package to support small and large businesses was announced in the Budget in which chancellor, Rishi Sunak, vowed to help the economy and support businesses withstand the coronavirus pandemic.

UKHCA says that the extra demands placed on domestic care by the coronavirus outbreak has thrown the underlying social care crisis into sharp relief.

In the current situation, home care companies say they are likely to have more people needing care and will need to train extra staff, as some will not be able to work if they become ill.

The UKHCA concerns follow an announcement by NHS England that hospitals should free up around 15,000 beds by discharging long-term, medically-fit patients into the community as it is expected to place more pressure onto social care in the coming weeks.

The UKHCA says social care companies urgently need extra financial support from government and also changes to the way they are paid by local authorities, so they don't run out of money.

UKHCA chief executive, Dr Jane Townson, said: "We are desperately worried about the ability of care providers to remain solvent, whilst paying unprecedented numbers of care workers who are sick or self-isolating.

"Councils and the NHS pay only for care delivered. They will not pay for care workers prevented from working. People who buy their own homecare will not be able to bear the additional cost of staff absence."

The association represents more than 2,000 UK care providers, from private firms to not-for-profit organisations, many of which are already under financial pressure after successive governments have failed to reform or fund the council-run system adequately. 

Local authorities buy most of the care for people in their own homes and, at the end of each month, the number of minutes of support provided by care staff is totted up and the firm is paid for that in arrears.

UKHCA wants councils to pay companies upfront, based on the average amount of care they have provided in previous months, with the final figures worked out later.

On the subject of personal protective equipment, chief executive of NHS England, Sir Simon Stevens, has told MPs that there are adequate supplies but there have been difficulties getting items to the right places.

He told the Commons Health and Social Care Committee: "This is a challenge facing every country. A lot of the Chinese supply for some of the more basic items has been disrupted so, we are going to have to ramp up the production of gowns, in particular, and some face masks as this is not a flash in the pan."