Care home coronavirus guidance ‘like trying to construct furniture with missing piece’

Trying to understand the Government’s guidance on support for care homes and infection control measures has been like “trying to construct a piece of Ikea furniture with a piece missing”, a committee heard.

Sarah Pickup (picture), deputy chief executive of the Local Government Association, said some aspects of the overall coronavirus response have been “a bit chaotic”.

The processes around care home support plans and allocation of the £600 million infection control fund have been “less than ideal”, she told the House of Lords Public Services Committee.

Guidance has come out “in dribs and drabs and (there are) some quite rigorous conditions and limitations on what can be done”, Ms Pickup added.

She said: “One of my colleagues said it was like trying to construct a piece of Ikea furniture with a piece missing and the instructions being posted on a daily basis in bits and pieces. It was really difficult.”

Despite personal protective equipment (PPE) being one of care providers’ biggest costs, Ms Pickup said they are unable to use the infection control fund on this and instead must put it towards staffing.

She added: “We do not think that’s right and we haven’t been able to get our message across.”

Her concerns were echoed by Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, who said there have been “huge challenges” around communication from central Government and PPE distribution.

Testing was introduced “way too late” and without a comprehensive plan, while announcements have been made “without any prior consultation”, she said.

She said: “When we think about the challenges, I would say the challenges in terms of the lack of a successful testing regime so far would be one where I think we could have done a whole lot better, and would have made it easier for the NHS front line, all of the public sector frankly, as well as local communities, the public, because we came to this way too late and didn’t have a comprehensive plan.

“I think the PPE has been a big challenge and has put us in a place where we have had to deal with some very difficult situations.”

She is calling for “better consultation and engagement” with the organisations rolling out plans on the ground.

Last week, two announcements on visiting time changes and mask wearing in hospitals were announced, drawing criticism from NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson.

Ms Cordery said: “That just isn’t acceptable really in terms of how we need to work with every part of the system that is implementing these plans.

“Because every part of the system is involved and every part of the system wants to do their best, but right now without consultation or engagement that’s very, very challenging.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said: “During this unprecedented global outbreak we have continually kept our social care guidance under review and have been working tirelessly with the sector to reduce transmission and save lives. As a result according to the latest PHE statistics, 60% of care homes have had no outbreak at all.

“The Government’s priority from the outset has been to build, at record pace, a robust and efficient testing programme and it is a significant achievement that so many organisations have come together at speed to ensure our national testing programme can provide a test to anybody who needs one.

“We have delivered over 1.7 billion pieces of PPE since this global pandemic began and we continue to ensure supplies reach the front line quickly and effectively.”

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