Questions over £55m spent to keep Norfolk's vulnerable safe during pandemic

File photo dated 31/07/21 of a person receiving a Covid-19 jab. Unions are warning of "catastrophic"

More than £55m was spent by Norfolk County Council to keep vulnerable people in Norfolk safe during the Covid-19 pandemic - Credit: PA

More than £55m was spent by council chiefs to support Norfolk's social care sector during the pandemic.

The money, which came from central government, was used to help provide care for people and to assist the industry in meeting the costs of legislation and guidance introduced to help combat Covid-19.

The biggest share - just shy of £34m - was spent on infection control, while more than £10m went on testing.

Next week, a committee at County Hall will scrutinise the spending and question whether those millions were used in the best way.

It comes as latest statistics show 2,543 people in Norfolk died with Covid between the start of the pandemic and April 28 this year. Of that total, 739 of the deaths were in care homes and 1,653 in hospitals.

Norfolk County Council's County Hall headquarters

Norfolk County Council spent more than £55m trying to keep vulnerable people safe during the Covid-19 pandemic - Credit: Mike Page

Norfolk County Council was given almost £56m from Whitehall over the course of the pandemic, to go towards social care.

Now the funding has ended, a cross-party group of councillors will quiz officers on whether the money did what it was meant to do and if any lessons can be learned.

Most Read

County Hall officers were tasked with drawing up a report into how the money was used which reveals the £34m spent on infection control.

This included helping the care sector to cover extra costs such as restricting staff to one care home to limit the spread of the virus, to pay the wages of workers having to self-isolate and to recruit new staff.

A carer at Norsecare in Norfolk helping a resident with gardening

Money was given to care homes to help with infection control - Credit: Lee Blanchflower

The more than £10m spent on testing was to support rapid checks of care staff, to support visiting professionals and,  later in the pandemic, to enable people to visit their loved ones in care homes.

A person being tested for Covid-19

More than £10m was spent to ensure testing could be done in care homes and for home support - Credit: PA/Wire

Other findings from the report include:

* Just over £8m was spent on recruiting and keeping staff.

* An estimated 350 staff left the sector because they did not get vaccinated.

* Government-imposed timeframes on when money had to be spent hampered efforts in January last year to recruit 40 agency carers, cooks and registered managers - and meant they were not in place for a peak in cases.

* Thirty-eight Norfolk care homes closed permanently between 2020 and 2022.

* Just over £200,000 was returned to the government because it was not spent.

In the report, Gary Heathcote, Norfolk County Council's director of commissioning for adult social services, said: "The funding, which amounted to just under £28m each year, has been seen as a lifeline, nationally, for the social care sector during the pandemic.

"Where other businesses were able to receive support while not operating fully, the social care sector needed to continue its support for people across our communities, despite challenging and uncertain conditions.

"The financial support provided to the care market enabled continuation of services throughout the pandemic, with no providers leaving the market during this period solely because of the impacts of Covid-19."

Norfolk county councillor Steve Morphew. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Steve Morphew, leader of the Labour group at Norfolk County Council and chair of the scrutiny commitee - Credit: Denise Bradley

Steve Morphew, leader of the opposition Labour group at County Hall, who chairs the scrutiny committee, said: "Quite rightly, a lot of public money was spent supporting the care sector during the pandemic.

"It is right we ask how it was spent, how it has been accounted for, whether it achieved the purposes for which it was intended and what lessons we can learn for the future.

“Quality of care, the way care is provided and workforce issues – shortage of staff and their pay and conditions - have all been in the spotlight recently.

"In Norfolk, care is a huge issue, so it is timely that the scrutiny committee tries to get answers to how these are being influenced by what the past two years have shown us.”

Nationally, there has been controversy over some government spending during the pandemic.

Lord Agnew of Oulton

Lord Agnew - Credit: James Bass

Norfolk Conservative peer Lord Agnew dramatically resigned from the government over its handling of Covid business loans, saying a "pandemic of fraud" had been enabled due to poor scrutiny.

And some of the personal protective equipment deals the government agreed in the pandemic's first wave were found to be unlawful.

The scrutiny committee will meet at County Hall on Wednesday, May 18.