Social workers must brace themselves for extra administrative work and the need to arrange longer home care vists as the UK prepares for a widespread coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, a sector leader has warned.
As at 9am today (9 March), 319 people in the UK had tested positive for COVID-19, with the most cases – at least 61 – in London.
Typical symptoms of coronavirus include fever and a cough that may progress to severe pneumonia causing shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. Coronavirus can cause more severe symptoms in people with weakened immune systems, older people and those with long-term conditions like diabetes, cancer and chronic lung disease.
Government advice is for people who have travelled from Iran, Hubei in China, lockdown areas in northern Italy and Daegu and Cheongdo in South Korea in the past fortnight to stay indoors and avoid contact with others, even if they do not have symptoms. People who have travelled from these and a number of other countries, including the rest of China, Italy or South Korea, should self-isolate if they have a cough, high temperature or shortness of breath.
Find out more on the government’s website.
Longer home care visits and more admin
As confirmed cases rise, the United Kingdom Homecare Association’s (UKHCA) policy director, Colin Angel, said it was important for social workers to understand that home care visits could take “well longer than the usual expected time while dealing with people who are unwell”.
He added social workers and other council staff would also be dealing with considerable extra administration as a result of the need to reorganise visits to people’s homes and reallocate care workers.
“People are likely to receive the most responsive support if a greater degree of flexibility is exercised over the organisation and prioritisation of care visits.
“This will require the right degree of trust between commissioners and providers,” Angel said.
He said the situation was “potentially extremely serious”, particularly in regard to having sufficient staff to support older and disabled people in community settings.
More agency staff and telephone-based reviews
Beverley Latania, co-chair of the Adult Principal Social Worker Network, said that, amid government predictions for the virus to spread significantly, “crisis planning including an increased use of agency staff, use of telephone to assess or review citizens and partnership approaches with colleagues from health are being considered” by local authorities.
Local authority staff have been informed of the latest government guidance via newsletters, emails and posters, she added.
Meanwhile, the Care Provider Alliance (CPA), which represents the ten major care provider umbrella bodies, said it was “actively feeding in questions from providers to [the Department of Health and Social Care] and working with senior officials to address the issues pertinent to care providers”.
The alliance said it was working extensively with care providers in England to ensure best practice guidance on the prevention and control of infection in care settings was shared as it was updated.
Concerns for care staff
The government has also announced that its forthcoming emergency bill for dealing with the virus would enable skilled or experienced social care volunteers to be able to do additional work for the sector for up to four weeks without losing their jobs.
It would also make sick pay available to employees who have to stay at home from day one of any such period, rather than day four.
UNISON assistant general secretary Christina McAnea expressed concern for care workers and urged employers to follow government advice and pay workers who think they’ve come into contact with the virus and were consequently self-isolating.
“There shouldn’t be circumstances where care workers doing the right thing and self-isolating lose out financially. Care workers shouldn’t have to choose between the frying pan and the fire, between losing pay or keeping themselves and the people they look after safe,” McAnea said.
The government has estimated that, in the worst-case scenario, nearly 20% of British employees could be off work at one time.
Increased demand and fewer staff
Ian Hudspeth, chair of the Local Government Association’s community wellbeing board (LGA), said the demand for adult social care could rise due to increased illness while capacity would reduce as social care staff fall ill themselves.
“This could be further impacted by hospitals needing to discharge people even sooner than at present owing to the pressures on them, as well as other factors such as school closures or transport restrictions.”
He added: “Council staff continue to work day and night to support national efforts to contain the virus and minimise the spread of infection.”
Julie Ogley, president of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS), sought to reassure care providers and service users.
“The ongoing coverage of the coronavirus outbreak can be distressing, particularly for those of us who are older or disabled or provide care and support.
“However, we want to reassure anybody concerned that we are working closely with partner agencies and organisations to ensure that our members are properly prepared to deal with any cases,” Ogley said.