The social care sector was ‘left to fend for itself’ during the darkest days of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to an investigation into supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE).
The National Audit Office (NAO)’s report concluded Government PPE stockpiles were ‘inadequate for a coronavirus pandemic’ and the system was ‘overwhelmed’ at the height of the crisis.
It found that social care providers received just 10% of the PPE they needed from government schemes between late March and the end of July. In contrast, the figure for NHS trusts was 80%.
Care workers also had to contend with shifting government guidance on using PPE, which underwent 30 changes during the same period.
The report said carers felt ‘much of the guidance was explained for healthcare settings and had not been tailored for social care’.
It said ‘national bodies provided more support to hospitals than to social care’ and that the ‘initial focus on the NHS meant adult social care providers felt particularly unsupported’.
Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, Meg Hillier, said: ‘The national stockpile was nowhere near big enough for a coronavirus outbreak – a consequence of the pandemic plans’ fixation on influenza.
‘The social care sector was largely left to fend for itself in the early months while health workers couldn’t always get the PPE they needed. Shortages and confusing guidance added to the strain on frontline workers.’
The report said PPE shortages resulted in ‘uncertainty, anxiety and stress’ among care workers and ‘increased financial pressure on the adult social care sector’.
Unison assistant general secretary Christina McAnea said ministers 'reacted too slowly' and with 'a lack of foresight', adding: 'It's unforgivable that shockingly poor government planning left care and health staff to fight COVID-19 without the safety kit to protect themselves.'
As global demand pushed up prices, the Government spent £10bn more on PPE compared to 2019 prices.
Health Minister Jo Churchill said: ‘We set up robust and resilient supply chains from scratch and expanded our distribution network from 226 NHS trusts to over 58,000 health and care settings.’
The government has also committed to provide free PPE for social care providers until March.