Fast-track laid off workers for care home jobs in coronavirus crisis, ex-Government official says

Sir David Behan says move necessary in order to ensure vulnerable people not denied help eating, washing and drinking

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Laid-off shopworkers, bar staff and waiters should be fast-tracked for jobs in care homes to ensure the elderly are looked after in the coronavirus pandemic, a former Government official has said. 

Sir David Behan, a previous chief executive of the Care Quality Commission watchdog, said such moves were necessary in order to ensure that vulnerable people were not denied help eating, washing and drinking. 

It came as a Government paper warned that "challenging" decisions about how to ration care and prioritise cases lie ahead as demand on services continues to rise.

Its "ethical framework" urges those in charge of care services to be "transparent and have a clear justification" when it is decided to treat any individuals or groups differently to others in allocating care. 

Sir David, who now runs a care home group but was previously CQC's chief executive and before that the Department of Health's director general for social care, called for a relaxation of regulations so temporary workers could help out more quickly.

It comes amid growing numbers of coronavirus outbreaks in care homes, with more than half the residents in one Sussex home now showing symptoms. Oaklands Nursing Home, in Hove, called for staff to be tested in order that those free of the virus could return to work. 

Health officials are concerned that care homes could struggle to care for the elderly when rising numbers of staff fall ill or are forced to take weeks off work because their households are self-isolating.

Sir David urged ministers to act quickly to prevent a major crisis in the care sector, telling The Telegraph: "It is critical that we ease regulations so we can get workers into the care sector, to relieve pressure on the frontline. There are going to be a lot of people who have been working in retail, in pubs, in cafes, who will need work, and these are the people we need to be helping us in the care sector.

"We don't have time to wait 30 days for criminal record checks – clearly we need some checks, especially for those with direct contact, but there are a lot of jobs in kitchens, in offices and so forth that can release other staff to the frontline. So we need to find a way to fast-track workers to help care homes."

Sir David said failure to act swiftly could cost lives as well as damaging the quality of life for those in care homes. 

"The thought that someone with dementia could end up without help to eat, or to drink, or to go to the bathroom is just too awful – we do need to take steps urgently," he said. "If we do not make changes to get more staff in, there is a risk that the elderly will be denied basic care."

He called on the Governemnt to quickly introduce coronavirus testing for staff in the care sector, warning that increasing numbers are ending up at home for two weeks, with households in self-isolation because of possible symptoms, when they were actually clear of the virus. 

And he urged ministers to ensure that workers were given Personal Protective Equipment amid concern that masks and hazmat suits were not getting to many of those who need them. 

The new guidance, called "Responding to Covid-19: the ethical framework for adult social care, says: "Recognising increasing pressures and expected demand, it might become necessary to make challenging decisions on how to redirect resources where they are most needed and to prioritise individual care needs. 

"This framework intends to serve as a guide for these types of decisions and reinforce that consideration of any potential harm that might be suffered, and the needs of all individuals, are always central to decision-making."

It adds that records must be taken of all such decisions and their justifications. 

Last week, emergency legislation was passed which allows councils to ration social care for the elderly as the outbreak worsens. The instructions say councils can "prioritise the services they offer in order to ensure the most urgent and serious care needs are met, even if this means not meeting everyone's assessed needs in full or delaying some assessments".

The legislation will enable councils to "prioritise people with the greatest care needs and make the best use of the adult social care workforce".