Care homes in England demand revival of Covid fund to pay isolating staff

Care homes in England are demanding the return of full pay for staff isolating with Covid, saying the withdrawal of government funding has pushed carers to work while infected or to turn to food banks.

The Care Provider Alliance (CPA) and Unison, which represents thousands of care staff, have called on the health secretary, Sajid Javid, to restart the adult social care infection control and testing fund, saying cancelling it in March was an “incredibly dangerous move [that] will cost lives”.

They said some workers were turning to food banks or leaving for better-paid work because they could not afford to isolate, given rising inflation. Median pay for care workers in England was £9.01 an hour in 2020-21, just 29p higher than the “national living wage” in that period.

The vacancy rate among social care workers has almost doubled in the past year to 10%, according to the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services. Care operators said the trend was restricting discharges from hospitals, snarling up other NHS treatments.

The original £1.75bn fund, which gave financial support to care providers in England so they could continue to pay full wages ​to isolating staff, was closed in March. A similar fund in Scotland has been extended until the end of June.

“It is beyond belief that such a vital financial lifeline has been cut for low-paid staff trying to protect vulnerable people, particularly during the worst cost-of-living crisis in over 60 years,” said Martin Green, chair of the CPA, and Gavin Edwards, senior national officer at Unison, in a letter to the health secretary. “The government should be encouraging and rewarding staff for doing the right thing by self-isolating, not making it impossible for them to feed their families.”

They said the care sector “remains under immense pressure as the virus continues to circulate”.

“Major staff shortages are directly undermining the quality of care provided across England,” they said. “They are also preventing the NHS from discharging patients back into the community, consequently limiting access to medical services and piling more pressure on the system.”

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At least 2,700 care workers are currently absent with Covid in England, according to the national capacity tracker. That is likely to be an undercount as, since the infection control fund was withdrawn, providers are no longer being paid to complete the tracker.

Forty-five providers reported red alerts on workforce capacity, which means workforce level ratios had been breached.

The number of care homes reporting Covid outbreaks has fallen steadily over the past month to 272, according to the UK Health Security Agency’s weekly surveillance report. But there were 135 deaths in care homes involving Covid in the last week for which data from the Care Quality Commission was available, a figure consistent with 100 to 200 deaths a week from Covid in care homes recorded since the start of the year.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “The vast majority of care workers are employed by private-sector providers, who determine their pay, terms and conditions of employment. All care providers should support good health and safety practice, including encouraging staff staying away from the workplace when there would be a health risk to those in their care, as they would have done before the pandemic.”

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