The government has attempted to address some of the concerns about the abuse of disabled people’s rights to health and social care that emerged during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The policies come in a new adult social care winter plan, which mentions many of the areas where there were breaches of rights over the first six months of the crisis.
One of them was discrimination that emerged within the NHS, including examples of the wrongful use of “do not attempt cardio-pulmonary resuscitation” (DNACPR) orders.
In the winter plan, ministers say they are aware of “anecdotal reports of inappropriate practice in applying DNACPRs”, which they say is “unacceptable”.
The plan says the government has taken “national action” to prevent this happening and continues “to work with stakeholders to understand what more we can do nationally to prevent inappropriate DNACPR decisions being made for individuals”.
Among the other promises in the plan is to provide free personal protective equipment (PPE) for all adult social care providers and care workers until March 2021.
It also says that care providers should stop all but essential movement of staff between care homes, to reduce the spread of the virus.
The movement of staff, including agency workers, between care homes was one of the factors blamed for thousands of deaths in residential care during the early part of the pandemic, while shortages of PPE were also blamed for helping spread the virus in care facilities.
The winter plan also discusses the suspension of key rights to health and social care through the emergency Coronavirus Act in March, and concerns over plans for the “safe discharge” of hospital patients infected with COVID-19 into care homes.
In both cases, there is growing alarm over the government’s plans (see separate stories).
For disabled people who receive direct payments, the winter plan says local authorities and clinical commissioning groups must “take a flexible approach” to the arrangements recipients will need to make to meet their care and support needs during the pandemic.
It adds: “Payments should continue to be used flexibly and innovatively with no unreasonable restrictions placed on the use of the payment, so long as it is being used to meet eligible care and support needs.”
Disabled people who use direct payments to employ a personal assistant (PA) are entitled to free personal protective equipment for PAs that carry out “close contact care”.
During the early months of the pandemic, many disabled people who receive direct payments to pay for their PAs were unable to access personal protective equipment, while the government only published guidance for people on direct payments more than five weeks after it had published guidance for the wider social care sector.
The winter plan says the government will publish updated guidance for recipients of direct payments ahead of the winter period.
Last week, the government announced a six-month extension of the Adult Social Care Infection Control Fund, another measure included in the winter plan.
The extra £546 million can be used by local authorities to help social care providers pay staff their full wages when they are self-isolating, and to enable staff to work in only one care home, cutting the risk of spreading COVID-19.
Although the fund is focused on supporting care homes, councils can use 25 per cent of their grant on other COVID-19 infection control measures, including payments to home care providers or “wider workforce measures”.
The winter plan also includes the appointment of a new chief nurse for adult social care, and free flu vaccines for all health and care staff, including PAs, and unpaid carers.
To improve understanding of where infections are taking place, the government will publish and update an adult social care “dashboard”, which will bring together data about COVID-19 from multiple sources, and will allow local, regional and national government to monitor outbreaks and emerging risks.
Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock said: “We are entering a critical phase in our fight against coronavirus with winter on the horizon.
“Our priority over the next six months is to make sure we protect those most vulnerable receiving care and our incredibly hard-working workforce by limiting the spread of the virus and preventing a second spike.”
*For sources of information and support during the coronavirus crisis, visit the DNS advice and information page
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