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‘Catastrophic’ delay in focusing on care homes during coronavirus

PUBLISHED: 12:19 19 August 2020 | UPDATED: 12:54 19 August 2020

James Bullion, director of adult social care at Norfolk County Council. Picture Norfolk County Council

James Bullion, director of adult social care at Norfolk County Council. Picture Norfolk County Council

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The delay by the government in focusing on social care at the height of the coronavirus pandemic was “catastrophic”, the social services director for Norfolk County Council has said.

Norfolk County Council's headquarters at County Hall in Norwich. Pic: Neil Perry.Norfolk County Council's headquarters at County Hall in Norwich. Pic: Neil Perry.

James Bullion said the county council came “pretty close” to not being able to respond to care needs of people in Norfolk because of the national lag in preparedness for the pandemic.

He said the county was preparing for a second wave, but that it could be a struggle for social care if that coincides with the usual winter pressures.

While the government focused on ensuring the NHS would cope as the pandemic struck in March, testing and personal protective equipment for social care lagged behind hospitals.

With 152 people having died with Covid-19 in Norfolk’s care homes, Mr Bullion said: “I think, globally, for social care, for the NHS to have prepared a month earlier than social care was catastrophic nationally for the outcome for people because it meant the arrangements for PPE and for testing people was a month later than you would have wanted it to have been.

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“While Norfolk’s level of impact from the pandemic was lower than the national average - and that’s to do with our position in the country and the nature of our county that we live in largely - it did have an impact.”

Mr Bullion, speaking at a council scrutiny meeting looking at the impact of Covid-19 on social care, said there was work to engage with care providers and £3m was spent on extra PPE.

But he said: “It meant that, because there was no testing of discharges for a month after the NHS started testing, you just have a structural impact that had poor outcomes on people in social care. But I think the council and care providers worked well together and with the NHS to respond to that situation.”

About 35pc of care homes in Norfolk had outbreaks.

Mr Bullion said: “We never got to a situation where we ran out of PPE, or where a provider failed and collapsed because of PPE. We never got to a situation where we could not respond to someone’s care needs on that day, but we came pretty close because of the national lag between health planning and social care planning.”

Mr Bullion said the county had learned lessons, but social care could “struggle” if a second wave , as expected, coincides with winter.


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