An open letter to Matt Hancock over social care’s virus crisis – Mike Padgham

MIKE Padgham, chair of the Scarborough-based Independent Care Group, today writes this open letter to Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

Dear Secretary of State,
I WRITE on behalf of all social care providers and workers, not just here in Yorkshire but across the country, who are on the front line in the fight against coronavirus (Covid-19).

I think I speak for most if not all of those in saying how grateful we were this week to have you outline measures to support social care as it battles coronavirus in care and nursing homes, and in people’s own homes.
The challenge for you and the Government is to ensure that those were not just warm words but will be followed by real, positive and bold action for treating the coronavirus pandemic and beyond. We need this to be a catalyst for real change for the sector’s future.
You will, I am sure, have seen some of the criticism which followed Wednesday’s announcements by people seeking to reduce the Government’s support for social care to just a branding exercise, symbolised by the Care badge. This criticism coming, I am sure, from those unaware that the Care badge was launched last year and is slowly taking its place alongside the NHS badge.
The underlying criticism will, however, be a valid one unless this week’s measures are properly followed through and social care workers on the front line see real change.

We have always known of the enormous role social care would have to play in fighting Covid-19, but I am afraid to say that we have been ill-equipped to cope because the Government wasn’t ready for anything like this to happen.
Hospitals have been struggling to cope and the lack of protective equipment for those hospitals and, in particular for others in a caring environment, has been shameful.
And despite seeing the death tolls rising in other countries, we were slow to put in measures that would stem its spread here. The lockdown was late and its impact too late for many who have died.
I have always known that the army of people caring for vulnerable people in care and nursing homes, and those looking after people in their own home, has never had the same respect as NHS workers.

But the past few weeks have demonstrated it like never before. How much badgering did we all have to do to remind people that social care workers deserved praise too alongside other key workers?
The difficulty for social care providers to get personal protective equipment (PPE) has, as I indicated earlier, been appalling. Our care workers have been sent into battle against Covid-19 without the right gear, second in the queue behind the NHS, despite doing the same job.
It is worth the reminder that social care currently looks after 400,000 people in care and nursing homes – three times the number in NHS hospital beds. And it looks after a further 640,000 people in their own home, through domiciliary care.
Care and nursing homes have been taking people in through their doors whether they have Covid-19 or not and have been ill-equipped to cope. Under-resourced, under-funded and under-valued. Now that neglect is laid bare.

What we see is a social care system trying to work hand in hand with the NHS to provide seamless cradle to the grave care. But whilst one is managed by central Government and at the forefront of political priority, the other is managed by local authorities who are under the biggest of financial restraints. This marriage of NHS and social care cannot work and cannot go on.
However, in the interests of getting through this, we will have to keep any inquiries into this, and indeed our whole reaction to Covid-19, until the pandemic has passed.
But what I do hope, once this madness is all behind us, is that your Government will have a new-found respect for social care.
Can I expect that you will come up with a long-term solution for social care that will give it the funding it needs? Can I hope that we will get a social care system that is able to cope should a crisis such as coronavirus ever happen again?

That is the least that we can hope to come out of all this. We need to be brave. We need to create one body that manages NHS and social care to replace the splintered system we have now. Only then will you be able to honestly say that social care workers and NHS staff are “on the same footing”.
I believe that if you ask the British public to pay a little more to ensure they get the care they need, through taxation or National Insurance, they would be willing to pay.
People will be sceptical – after all we have had 12 ministers in the last 20 years and 13 documents in the past 17 years, setting out to solve social care.
Indeed, I have written to you before on the ongoing crisis in social care but received no reply. And when I wrote to all 650 MPs over the situation, I received just a handful of replies.

But without social care pulling out all the stops, the impact of Covid-19 on this country would have been much worse. I do hope that when this is all over you will meet with me and I can put my ideas for positive change forward personally. Let’s be bold and not let the people of this county down again.
A lot of care and nursing homes have opened their doors to take in discharged patients, regardless of whether they might have coronavirus or not.
And social care workers have rolled up their sleeves and cared for everyone in front of them – irrespective of the dangers they faced and ill-equipped with PPE.
We deserve to see that heroic effort from social care rewarded not just today but for future generations to come. They deserve nothing less.

Yours sincerely,
Mike Padgham.