Swine flu tsar points to difficulties this winter

The social care swine flu tsar has admitted there will be serious challenges in reaching out to small social care providers and personal budget users ahead of an expected outbreak this autumn.

Roy Taylor, who was appointed national director for social care flu resilience in July, in charge of overseeing planning across the sector, said advice was being disseminated on how to deal with staff illness and hygiene control.

But he raised concerns about how to relay the message to the large number of “mom and pop” small-scale care providers and direct payment and personal budget users employing their own personal assistants.

At risk groups

Next month, the government is expected to begin its drive to vaccinate at-risk groups, which include frontline social care staff working in residential and domiciliary settings.

“It does add another dimension because it means we have to reach very widely to individual service users,” Taylor (pictured) said.

“My priority over the next few months is to make sure that there’s a good joined-up service between the NHS and local authorities to ensure that all private, voluntary and local authority homes and care organisations – and also people who have direct payments and individual budgets – know what to do in relation to swine flu.”

Sue Bott, director of the National Centre for Independent Living, said that she would be urging the Local Government Association and the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services to ensure that people on personal budgets or direct payments are not left out of the emergency planning process.

“As far as I can see small employers and people who employ their own personal assistants have only got the information available for the general public anyway. Clearly there is the increased likelihood that a number of personal assistants will be made ill and this is going to have an effect on the people they’re working with,” she said.

“We would want to urge councils not to forget about people with direct payments just because they don’t happen to use a particular service. We do see this, that once someone’s got a direct payment they’re almost out of sight, out of mind.”

Rough sleepers

Taylor also raised concerns about how to reach rough sleepers and those without permanent accommodation, many of whom would be a priority for vaccination because of medical conditions.

Leslie Morphy, chief executive of Crisis, said: “There needs to be a plan in place so homeless people can easily access treatment and vaccination where appropriate – a challenge that must be tackled head-on.”

In addition to the vaccination programme more than 200 million face masks are being distributed to primary care trusts. Directors of adult social services have been given the responsibility for distributing around a third of those locally as required.

Although social workers and ancillary staff who do not carry out personal care are not priority groups for the first waves of vaccinations, Taylor said they would be prioritised as supplies of vaccines came through.

Exclusion from first wave

But Ann McKay, director of policy at the English Community Care Association, raised concerns about the exclusion of care home domestic and catering staff from the first wave of vaccinations.

“Everyone’s a frontline member of staff; it could make running a home very difficult if they were not vaccinated. If they were off sick, frontline staff would be diverted from care work into doing catering and domestic work,” she said.

Taylor added that it was “quite hard to get information on what’s happening in every particular local area” in terms of social care flu planning.

He said he was looking at piloting a system of regular reporting by local authorities on levels of preparedness in their areas, similar to that which applies to NHS trusts

He added: “If it works well then we may be able to spread that more widely.”

Preventing swine flu in care homes

Taylor’s messages to small providers:

● Look at the Department of Health’s website for swine flu updates.

● Google “business continuity”.

● Use umbrella bodies such as ECCA and the United Kingdom Homecare Association.

● Contact your local authority.

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