We have sweated blood and tears to support the sector through this pandemic. Last month, we launched the adult social care winter plan, with regular testing for care home staff and residents, free personal protective equipment and mandatory infection prevention and control measures for care providers, supported by £546 million of Government funding. I am enormously grateful to all those on the frontline in social care. I recognise the challenges that they have faced and how many feel daunted by the winter ahead. I say to care workers: “I cannot thank you enough for what you do and I am with you every step of the way.”
I have been contacted by Ann Penrose, who is 91, in good health and in a care home in Ashbourne, Derbyshire Dales. She asked her family to contact Boris, but sadly she got me. Does the Minister agree that the time has come to look very carefully at what is happening in care homes to review the existing measures, routines and guidelines, bearing in mind that we are testing so much now? We need to have a bit more humanity. We are in danger of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. These people need their families, yes, in a safe environment, but they do need to have access to families and, at times, to their pets.
My hon. Friend makes an important point about the importance of visiting both to the individuals living in care homes, and to their family and friends. Achieving the balance between protecting care home residents from the risk that covid might be brought into the care home, where it is so hard to control, and giving them access to visitors, has been one of the hardest areas to get right over the past few months. That is why in the summer we issued guidance on safe visiting and gave more freedom on the decisions about visiting to local authorities, with directors of public health working with care homes. I want us to continue to support and enable safe visiting for care homes.
Order. We have to get through this grouped set of questions, and it is going to take us well into topicals time; the Minister really does need to speed up on the answers.
I thank the Minister for the social care winter plan announced two weeks ago. Can she tell me when this half a billion pound infection control fund will be released to councils covering constituencies such as mine in Congleton, in order to help protect residents and staff over the winter?
The infection control fund is being distributed in two equal instalments, the first of which has already been paid to local authorities. My hon. Friend’s local authority, Cheshire East Council, will be receiving £4.7 million in total, so it should already have received £2.35 million to go towards the extra costs for care providers and others in infection prevention and control.
As always, I commend the Department and the Secretary of State on their work during the pandemic. Although not every part of the response has been perfect—and we never expected that it would be—I am convinced that the Department has done its utmost to protect the public. I do have some concerns, however, about the transmission between care homes. What measures has the Department taken to prevent cross-contamination of covid between care homes, particularly from staff who work in multiple locations?
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments, but most of the credit should go to those working in social care, who have been looking after some of the most vulnerable people in our society in such difficult circumstances. He is right that it is really important that we ensure that there is no transmission between one care home and another, which is why we are requiring care homes to make sure that their staff work in only one setting and are providing additional funding to enable them to do this.
Care homes are rightly the focus of our attention at the current time, but I know that the Minister is reviewing the future of social care. Does she agree that our focus in that regard should be on more community-based services, not solely on residential provision? Will she also set my mind at ease by ruling out the creation of a new national care service run from Whitehall?
First, may I congratulate my hon. Friend on his recent report on levelling up our communities? As he said, care homes have indeed been the focus of our social care response to the pandemic, but I would not want anyone to think that that was the limit of our support for social care during the pandemic; the winter plan also includes support for domiciliary care, supported living and others. I agree with him that as we look to the future, we should support the aspiration that most people have to live independently, with their own front door, well into their old age. There are no plans to create a national care service run from Whitehall.
Families with loved ones in care homes are desperate to start visiting again, but are banned from doing so in swathes of the country with extra restrictions. The Government’s own carers advisory group says that visits are essential for residents’ health, and that, to make them safe, relatives should be treated like key workers—with regular testing. Will the Minister now please put that testing in place and lift the blanket ban on care home visits in lockdown areas, so that we can help to bring all families back together again?
The hon. Member makes an important point, as did my hon. Friend Miss Dines a moment ago, about the importance of visiting for those in care homes, and for their relatives and loved ones. We are striking the difficult balance between protecting those in care homes and ensuring that they have visits wherever possible, but these visits must be done safely. I have heard from the sector about the aspiration for some family members to be treated as care workers—for instance, if they visit the care home regularly. As we expand testing, I very much intend that we should test some visitors—and am making the case for doing so—but it is all part of how we expand and use our testing resources.