11 Oct 2023

Steve Brine MP, Chair, Health and Social Care Select Committee

We sat down with Steve Brine MP, Chair of the Health and Social Care Select Committee, to discuss the impacts of the pandemic on the adult social care sector and the lessons to learn from policymakers' handling of the crisis. 

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What were the most unforeseen impacts of the pandemic on the adult social care sector?  

The pandemic put a massive strain on a social care sector that was already under pressure. Between 2020-21, the Health and Social Care Committee led a joint inquiry with the Science and Technology Committee into lessons learned. We found that whilst the UK was not alone in suffering significant loss of life in care homes, the tragic scale of loss was among the worst in Europe and could have been mitigated. In particular, staff shortages, the lack of testing, difficulties in obtaining PPE and the design of care settings hampered isolation and infection control and the ability to keep Covid-19 at bay. The pandemic also had a significant and lasting impact on the social care workforce, where staffing gaps have continued to grow. 

Are claims that the health service was prioritised over social care during the pandemic justified?  

The inquiry found that the lack of priority attached to social care during the initial phase of the pandemic was illustrative of a longstanding failure to afford social care the same attention as the health service. In the case of a future pandemic, the joint report recommended that prominence of social care within the Department of Health and Social Care should be enhanced and Ministers must address the relative lack of knowledge of social care within the Department and NHS. 

Post-pandemic, how can policymakers improve the inter functionality of the health and care services?  

Planning for future pandemics should have a more developed and explicit consideration of the intense interaction between the NHS and social care. The Committee is optimistic about the newly formed Integrated Care Systems (ICS). We hope these will offer a refreshed way of working across health, social care, and wider local authority functions and community organisations. However, it is vital that social care is not forgotten, and that ICSs do not become too NHS-centric. To do this, the Government and NHS England, working with ICSs, must monitor and resolve poor partnership working. 

How can the Government ensure additional funding for the sector promotes its post-pandemic recovery while also addressing inconsistencies in local care provision? 

Whilst additional funding for social care is welcome, long-term reform of the sector is overdue and should be pursued as a matter of urgency. One aspect of reform the Committee argued in its workforce report should be prioritised is to end “by the minute” commissioning by Local Authorities and private providers. This practice is having a damaging impact on the continuity of care offered to people in receipt of social care and the terms and conditions under which workers provide care. Instead, workers should be paid in advance to provide care that is both relational and task-based and is focused on achieving outcomes. Lack of funding also underpins the poor digital capabilities and infrastructure within social care and is preventing the sector from benefiting from the huge potential gains digital can bring. 

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