It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster advising on COVID-19 in the world of social care. As we start to come out of lockdown, here are some of the good news stories of how we’ve been able to help during the global pandemic.

Alcohol solutions

…of the hand sanitiser kind. As demand surged for hand sanitiser and other cleaning supplies, products have been selling for more than 5,000% of their recommended retail price online. That is an enormous bill for the domestic weekly shop, let alone a commercial organisation. We have been advising how Competition Law may help bring prices back to normal and how one trade association might consider whether a group claim could be brought on behalf of its members.

You wear a mask for so long, you forget who you were beneath it

It isn’t possible to be socially distant at work when your day-to-day role involves helping others get washed, dressed and to eat their meals. Masks have been essential tools for protecting both care workers and vulnerable individuals, but they come with challenges.

In April DHSC (Department for Health & Social Care) and PHE (Public Health England) issued guidance making the use of face masks mandatory in all registered social care settings. Care England, a representative body for care providers, raised concerns that the use of face masks could be counterproductive in supporting those with significant learning disabilities. In some cases, not being able to see the care worker’s face might provoke an aggressive of frightened reaction. It could also impede communication for those who lip read.

Thanks to a combined effort by the regulatory and private client teams, we provided detailed advice on the legal standing of the guidance and the correct approach to the overall assessment of the risk. We also supported Care England in preparing alternative guidance outlining a risk-based approach. The guidance was shared and the approach we supported is now incorporated in updated guidance issued by DHSC and PHE.

Vulnerable people, human rights and important relationships

We have all been missing friends and family and struggled with not being able to visit loved ones. This has created additional problems for people who need help with day-to-day with tasks when unpaid carers have been forced to keep ‘socially distant’.

Early on, the Government realised resources would be limited and changed the Care Act 2014 so that local authorities were excused from carrying out some care assessments. Local authorities could ignore requests for care and support, provided they made sure nobody was at risk of having their Human Rights breached. We helped explain that, whilst resources might be limited, it should be business as normal (as far as possible) before local authorities change to this extreme method of triaging.

Care homes have had to change their visitors’ policies, to make sure friends and family can still keep in contact (via technology or in-person) without putting residents at risk. We have helped providers navigate this tricky area, as visits from family are often the highlight of the day.

Pay rises and shielding colleagues

We have been helping clients navigate furlough, to protect care workers who are shielding so they can be paid at least 80% of pay rather than Statutory Sick Pay or nothing at all (we see you Wetherspoons). We advised care providers to do this before the guidance said it was covered and despite concerns that they might be barred because they receive public funding. For just one of our clients, this has meant securing the best financial package for hundreds of staff.  

This year, the National Living Wage increased to £8.72 per hour, giving many care workers a much-needed pay rise. Providers and local authorities will normally have a heated debate in January – March, to discuss rising costs and how this should be reflected in the price paid for social care services. With the UK going into lockdown in March, many of these conversations were put to one side as everyone battled with the practical challenges of COVID-19.

When procurement rules relaxed, we assisted on the ‘buy now, argue later’ approach which means people receive essential care without having to wait. It is important the long-term price discussions aren’t forgotten and we have been supporting providers in these negotiations to receive fair payment for the services they deliver.

In-and-out of hospital

Hospitals were under immediate pressure to make space for COVID-19 patients and that involved a rapid discharge of people to other placements, such as care homes. Our clients were struggling with how to best protect their residents (who were shielding), so that new residents didn’t bring the virus into the care homes. We supported clients to take a firm stance on testing and help residents return home when the time was right.

Change comes at a cost - the £600 million Infection Control Fund

Providers have made rapid changes to control the spread of COVID-19. This has meant expensive purchases such as buying new computer software and installing more washing machines. It has also meant providing staff with bikes and overnight accommodation to avoid taking public transport, reducing their contact time with the general public.

To help cover the costs of these measures, the Government has made £600 million available to care homes. The fund is administered by Local Authorities and paid in two tranches, in May and July. We have been helping providers understand the terms of the grant and how to submit a claim.

For more information

Please contact Emma Watt.