The Government’s response to the pandemic has laid bare existing fault lines within health and social care. “The relationship between adult social care and the NHS, workforce shortages, the challenges posed by legacy data and IT systems, and the financial pressure felt by parts of the system all require long-term solutions,” the National Audit Office has said in a report.
Initial learning from the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic calls for the Government to integrate health and social care and put social care on an equal footing with the NHS and put an end to a relationship described by stakeholders as “challenging for decades”.
Increased data returns will be part of the solution, says the NAO in the report.
It says: “Issues predating the pandemic made responding to the crisis more difficult in some areas. Stakeholders reported DHSC’s limited engagement with, and understanding of, the sector going into the pandemic. Prior to COVID-19 there was no process in place to collect a wide range of data from providers regularly.”
The report highlights certain aspects of the initial pandemic response, which reflected a greater emphasis on health than on social care. For example, NHS trusts received 80 per cent of their estimated PPE requirement through national schemes between 20 March 2020 and 31 July 2020, whereas social care providers received only 10 per cent.
The NAO also acknowledges that additional funding for health and social care was used to address immediate needs rather than to increase the long-term sustainability of social care services.
Commenting, Danny Mortimer, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said:
“This report re-emphasises the long-term issues that severely weakened the foundations of health and care, which meant the country was not better prepared to deal with the pandemic and its fallout. Importantly, this report also highlights the ever more pressing need to make sure reform of the social care sector is swift and far-reaching. The two are sister services, and when one is hit hard, so is the other. Our members stand with their colleagues in social care in their dismay that the experiences highlighted so starkly in this report did not result in the promised action by the Prime Minister and Chancellor.”