A public inquiry into the way the Government dealt with the Covid-19 pandemic has been urged not to forget social care again.
The Independent Care Group (ICG) says the sector was forgotten when coronavirus hit the country in 2020 and thousands of lives were lost in care and nursing homes.
It is desperate for lessons to be learned and for an urgent plan for social care reform to be put in place as a result.
The public inquiry is due to get underway tomorrow and the ICG said it hoped that the process could be shortened so that action could be taken quicker.
ICG Chair Mike Padgham said: “Our priorities have to be to ensure that how social care was treated and the impact of the pandemic on the sector is not forgotten and also to press for the inquiry to deliver its findings quicker.
“At the moment the impact of the pandemic on the UK care sector is not due to be examined until 2024 or 2025, which is a long way off when it comes to learning lessons and getting improvements – we would like to see that inquiry timetable shortened and the results reported more quickly.”
He said that when Covid-19 hit, the care of people in their own home and in care and nursing homes was already on the edge of survival after a generation of neglect.
“The Government then compounded that situation by putting social care to the back of the queue, concentrating attention and resources on the NHS as it reacted to the pandemic,” Mr Padgham added.
“At the start of the pandemic, care and nursing homes were told to continue as normal as the risk to residents was not deemed to be high. We were told to keep accepting hospital discharges even though it turned out, many were coming into our homes without being tested for covid first.
“The result was that Covid-19 got into care settings with devastating effect and many lives were lost as the pandemic was merciless when it reached those who were older, frail and with other medical conditions.
“The Government was slow to react, continuing to focus resources – in particular PPE and testing – on NHS settings, rather than care and nursing homes.
“We were badly let down and the Government did the exact opposite of throwing a protective ring around the sector.
“Even when alarm bells started ringing, we had to fight to get proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), access to the right testing regime and funding support to prevent us being overwhelmed.
“If you ask whether any lessons have been learned since, I would say the signs are, alarmingly, that they haven’t and social care is still playing second fiddle to NHS healthcare.”
The vital thing now was for lessons to be learned and for the care sector to get the overhaul it needs.
“Even before the pandemic, social care was in crisis and Covid-19 found a sector on its knees, with a dire shortage of funding, a staffing crisis and poor morale – little wonder that Covid-19 had such an impact on the sector,” Mr Padgham added.
“Despite this, care providers worked miracles in keeping their residents safe and were just as much a frontline against the pandemic as their NHS counterparts.
“We deserve to see the sector properly funded, merged with NHS care and with a workforce that is properly paid – recognised, respected and rewarded.
“That is the least we should expect after the pandemic we went through.”