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Planning for a life less Covid

The UK vaccination programme has been rolled out with a great deal of success and the Government has announced that it has been offered to all care homes. One might seek to criticise the Government for some things, but they deserve great credit for that, and the vaccination programme generally.

As the vaccination programme continues, there is likely to be an increasing relaxation of restrictions and in due course, hopefully, a return to normal, or at least something approaching normal.

What should care homes be thinking about in the context of this?

This briefing sets out some of the issues that could usefully be considered:

Staff health

The pandemic has clearly put great pressure on staff for all sorts of obvious reasons, both in terms of physical and mental health. Good employee line management should clearly take account of that and react accordingly. This would include risk assessing staff for ongoing health infection vulnerabilities.

Management records

Previous briefings outlined the importance of keeping good records in relation to the various management decisions taken during the pandemic, and wherever possible cross-referencing the policy guidance available at the time. There are increasing demands for enquiries into the pandemic and no doubt there will be claims brought on the back of some of this. Ensuring good documentation whilst matters are still fresh is clearly important. This will also assist with regulatory compliance issues that may arise.

Insurance

The increased cost of insurance this year has been well-publicised. As soon as a provider is notified of a potential claim, they must make sure that they in turn notify their insurers so that there is no suggestion that cover does not apply because of late notification.

Estates/equipment maintenance

Due to the focus on the pandemic and obvious operational needs, estates issues around the care home and/or grounds may have slipped. Equipment maintenance may have been difficult to arrange. It would be worth surveying the real estate and equipment to see if there is remedial action that needs to be taken.

Other policy slippages

Again, the pandemic has meant that staff have focused on delivering care or covering for colleagues who are sick. Accordingly, it is possible that some of the “softer” actions that would normally be taken may have slipped. This might include auditing records and care plans, undertaking staff supervision, following up on training needs etc. Mental capacity assessments, advance care planning and routine care record updating may well need chasing up.

Resident risk assessment

Some residents will clearly be looking forward to trips out of the home, escorted or otherwise. Most will be looking forward to face-to-face visits. However, the virus has not gone away, and thorough risk assessments should be put in place.

GP services

Many GPs have been relying on virtual consultations. Early discussions with your GP practice in relation to their procedures going forward, particularly in relation to visits into the care home, would be a sensible step.

External medical appointments

As a result of the pressure on external services, or difficulties caused by the pandemic in terms of travel or isolation, residents may have missed external medical appointments. Steps should be taken to reschedule these.

Vaccination policy

What policy is the home going to adopt in relation to new admissions? Will vaccination be required?

What policy is the provider going to adopt in relation to staff recruitment? Again is vaccination going to be required?

Recruitment

The double whammy of Brexit and the pandemic may have impacted recruitment (and may continue to do so), with the travel restrictions these issues bring. What planning is in place to fill skills gaps?

Complaints

The ombudsman has already commented on the fact that the pandemic has affected the type and number of complaints that they are receiving. The number of complaints may well increase covering issues as wide-ranging as PPE, visiting, transmission of the virus and delays in treatment. It will be important to ensure that individuals dealing with complaints are well versed in the relevant issues and can also bring kindness and compassion into the process. At the same time they will need to be aware of the potential for legal liability arising in such matters.

Lessons learned

Whilst the period of the pandemic has brought challenges for most businesses, it has equally provided an opportunity to find new ways of operating. This might include more online meetings, with an increased regularity as a result of the reduction in travel time and as a result an increase in supervision. This might therefore include a considerably improved level of oversight.

GP medical services have broadly been delivered online in a way that was pretty much unthinkable prior to the pandemic. Other external providers will have made use of the same technology and all of this could well combine to improve the way a care home operates.

Of course, some aspects have been adversely affected by the pandemic, but it will be important to assess either where weaknesses have been identified or improvements achieved, to ensure the future takes account of this. For example, video calls and the use of tablets for communication has escalated beyond what anyone would have expected a year ago. Not ideal, but is it all bad?

The success of vaccinations means that we are hopefully approaching the light at the end of the tunnel with more assurance than at any previous time during the pandemic – and therefore hopefully a period of life that is much less Covid.


Disclaimer

This briefing is for guidance purposes only. RadcliffesLeBrasseur LLP accepts no responsibility or liability whatsoever for any action taken or not taken in relation to this note and recommends that appropriate legal advice be taken having regard to a client's own particular circumstances.

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