Coronavirus and Care Homes

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:33 pm on 19th May 2020.

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Photo of Matthew Hancock Matthew Hancock Secretary of State for Health and Social Care 12:33 pm, 19th May 2020

I welcome the hon. Lady to her post and to her first question in this new role. I know that she enjoys a good working relationship with the Minister for Care, my hon. Friend Helen Whately, and that cross-party working during this crisis has gone on throughout. I thank her for that and for the approach that she is taking. She is right and perfectly reasonable to ask questions about how we can further improve the support that we are giving to the care sector, and, as I have said from this Dispatch Box before, and before her appointment, we have made social care a priority from the start. The first guidance went out to social care in February. She referred to the 13 March guidance. That was only a matter of days immediately after the risk to the public was raised on medical advice. The guidance that was in place until then, as she probably knows, explicitly stated that that guidance was in place while community transmission was low and that it would be updated as soon as community transmission went broader. That is exactly what we did.

More importantly, the hon. Lady raised the question of discharges, and I understand the questions that have been asked about discharges into care. It is important to remember that hospital can be a dangerous place for people. As well as saving lives, it can also carry risks, and does so, so it is an appropriate clinical decision in many cases for people to be discharged from hospital, and safer for them to go to a care home. What is important is that infection control procedures are in place in that care home, and those infection control procedures were put in place at the start of this crisis and have been strengthened, exactly as she says, as we have learned more and more about the virus all the way along. As the clinical understanding of coronavirus has strengthened, so too have we updated and strengthened our guidance.

The hon. Lady asked about PPE. As she and every Member of the House knows, there has been an enormous global challenge with the global shortage of PPE and the need to get PPE distribution out to tens of thousands of settings. The guidance that we have put out again, which is guided by clinical expertise, states the level of PPE that is required, and we are now delivering against those standards. We have processes in place so that all care homes that have shortages—the numbers are coming down, I am glad to say—can get in contact with their local resilience forum and make sure that they can get that PPE. Those processes are in place. It has been a huge challenge. It was called the biggest logistical exercise of the last 40 years by the head of the Army, and I think he was right.

The hon. Lady also asked about resources. Of course, if more resources are needed, we are open to those discussions. The fact that we put through £600 million more that will go directly to social care—it will not be able to be held by councils; rather, it will go directly into social care—is right, but we have also learned some really big things about social care, confirming some of the things many of us thought before. For instance, it is true that we need to have a more co-ordinated policy between health and social care. These social care reforms, which are long overdue and have not been put in place by Governments of all colours, absolutely must happen.