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March 9 2020

Relaxed care worker background checks considered under virus strategy

Emergency workforce plans are being made to mitigate the impact of a potential severe coronavirus outbreak on the UK social care sector, reports the Nursing Times.

Criminal record checks on former social care workers seeking to return to practice may be loosened and staff may be redeployed to areas where the impact of coronavirus is more severe.

"It must be recognised that smaller homes will be challenged in many ways"

Crystal Oldman

Yesterday, chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty confirmed to the Health and Social Care Select Committee that the UK was moving towards the second “delay” stage of the government’s virus action plan.

Without emergency measures, care homes may have to close and residents be relocated to NHS facilities, adding more pressure on overstretched services.

The Department of Health and Social Care has asked providers if background checks might impede emergency care plans, according to reports in the Guardian newspaper, which were not disputed by the government.

Workers who have recently left work or retired and whose background checks have expired as a result may be allowed back to work during a coronavirus outbreak without having to wait for several weeks for approval.

Background checks include enhanced criminal record bureau (CRB) checks, also known as a disclosure and barring service (DBS) check.

As many social care workers may become unable to work due to sickness or self-isolation, the government is also asking care providers to consider staff redeployment.

In preparation for an outbreak, nursing homes and care home operators may also have to pool carers in areas where there is the most need.

Dr Crystal Oldman, chief executive of the Queen’s Nursing Institute, said the charity was concerned about potentially removing background checks, and a full risk assessment would be needed in the meantime for such workers.

“The department should be including social care providers in every aspect of the planning"

Martin Green

Regarding redeployment, she added: “It may be possible for larger care home providers to support this approach, but I think it must be recognised that smaller homes will be challenged in many ways to provide the care needed in the event of the anticipated numbers of people (both residents and carers) who will contract the coronavirus."

Martin Green, chief executive of charity Care England, said it was vital that the social care sector was given the same support in regards to the coronavirus outbreak as the NHS.

He said: “The Department of Health and Social Care should be including social care providers in every aspect of the planning, and anything, such as procurement of drugs, goods, and services that might be required for the NHS should also include social care providers.

“This is an opportunity for the Department of Health and Social Care to show that it's not only its name that has changed, but its attitude to how it plans and delivers in a crisis.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “The UK is extremely well prepared for these types of outbreaks and Public Health England has issued tailored guidance for care providers setting out action to be taken in a variety of circumstances."

The department is working with the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, the Local Government Association and Care Provider's Alliance to plan with both local authorities and other care providers to prepare for the event of a more serious outbreak.