The UK Government has developed a document that outlines the future for the UK over the next few months in relation to COVID-19. Below is a summary of the main policy changes that relate to older people and those most at-risk. However, please note that this summary does not take the place of the UK Government’s full COVID-19 Recovery Strategy document.
Protecting the most clinically vulnerable people
It remains the case that some people are more clinically vulnerable to COVID-19 than others. These include those aged over 70, those with specific chronic pre-existing conditions and pregnant women. These clinically vulnerable people should continue to take particular care to minimise contact with others outside their households, but do not need to be shielded.
Throughout this period, the Government will need to continue an extensive programme of shielding for this group while the virus continues to circulate. The Government will also have to adjust its protections for other vulnerable locations like prisons and care homes, based on an understanding of the risk.
Those in the clinically extremely vulnerable cohort will continue to be advised to shield themselves for some time yet, and the Government recognises the difficulties this brings for those affected. Over the coming weeks, the Government will continue to introduce more support and assistance for these individuals so that they have the help they need as they stay shielded. And the Government will bring in further measures to support those providing the shield – for example, continuing to prioritise care workers for testing and protective equipment.
Those in the clinically ‘extremely vulnerable’ group are strongly advised to stay at home at all times and avoid any face-to-face contact; this is called ‘shielding’. It means not leaving the house or attending gatherings at all, with very limited exceptions.
Recognising the challenge faced by those shielding
- Providing essential food to those unable to leave their home. Over one million food boxes have now been delivered in England by wholesalers to those shielding who asked for help with food, with hundreds of thousands more to follow in the coming weeks. The Government has also arranged priority access to supermarket deliveries for those who have said they need it.
- Facilitating volunteer support. Up to 200,000 calls, a day have been made to the shielded in England to confirm their support needs.
The Government is also aware that when – in time – other members of society return to aspects of their normal daily lives, the challenge for those being asked to shield may deepen. The Government will continue to review the support needs of those shielding and the Government will continue to provide support to individuals for as long as they need its direct help.
Along with the support the Government is providing to those shielding, it will provide vital support for other vulnerable people, such as those at risk of loneliness.
As the UK recovers, the Government will ensure people with disabilities can have independent lives and are not marginalised. This will include making sure that they can access public services and will consider their needs as the Government creates safe work environments and reopen the transport system. The Government will ensure their overall health outcomes do not suffer disproportionately.
Protecting Care Homes
The Government’s number one priority for adult social care is infection control during the COVID-19 pandemic. Care homes for the elderly are particularly vulnerable because their residents are typically at greatest risk due to age and comorbidities, and because the nature of care homes means they are often closed spaces where the virus can spread quickly.
This has been supported by £3.2bn of additional funding for local authorities, which can be used to meet some of the rising costs providers are facing and additional pressures on social care; as well as a further £1.3bn for the NHS and local authorities to work together to fund the additional needs of people leaving hospital during the pandemic.
While still too high, the daily number of deaths of people in care homes in England has been falling for the past fortnight.
The Government will continue to strengthen the protections against infection of care home residents. This includes:
The Government is providing widespread, swift testing of all symptomatic care home residents, and all patients discharged from hospital before going into care homes. It is offering a COVID-19 test to every staff member and resident in every care home in England, whether symptomatic or not; by 6 June, every care home for the over 65s will have been offered testing for residents and staff.
Infection prevention and control
The Government is stepping in to support supply and distribution of PPE to the care sector, delivering essential supplies to care homes, hospices, residential rehabs and community care organisations. This includes detailed instructions on how to deep clean effectively. The NHS has committed to providing a named contact to help ‘train the trainers’ for every care home that wants it by 15 May. All care homes need to also restrict all routine and non-essential healthcare visits and reduce staff movement between homes.
The Government is expanding the social care workforce.
The Government is accelerating the introduction of a new service of enhanced health support in care homes from GPs and community health services, including making sure every care home has a named clinician to support the clinical needs of their residents by 15th May.
The Government is providing a variety of guidance, including on GOV.UK
Local Authority role
Every local authority will ensure that each care home in their area has access to the extra support
Smarter shielding of the most vulnerable
The Government is taking a cautious approach, but some inherent risk to the most vulnerable remains. Around 2.5 million people across the UK have been identified as being clinically extremely vulnerable and advised to shield. These are people who are most at risk of severe illness if they contract COVID-19. This means that they have been advised to stay at home at all times and avoid any face-to-face contact, until the end of June.
Whilst shielding is important to protect individuals from the risk of COVID-19 infection, the Government recognises that it is challenging for people’s wider wellbeing. The Government will review carefully the effect on shielded individuals, the services they have had, and what next steps are appropriate.
For the foreseeable future, workers should continue to work from home rather than their normal physical workplace, wherever possible.
All workers who cannot work from home should travel to work if their workplace is open. Sectors of the economy that are allowed to be open should be open, for example this includes food production, construction, manufacturing, logistics, distribution and scientific research in laboratories. The only exceptions to this are those workplaces such as hospitality and nonessential retail which during this first step the Government is requiring to remain closed.
The rate of infection remains too high to allow the reopening of schools for all pupils yet. However, it is important that vulnerable children and the children of critical workers are able to attend school, as is currently permitted. Approximately 2% of children are attending school in person, although all schools are working hard to deliver lessons remotely. Local authorities and schools should therefore urge more children who would benefit from attending in person to do so.
When travelling everybody (including critical workers) should continue to avoid public transport wherever possible. The Government will increase funding and provide new statutory guidance to encourage local authorities to widen pavements, create pop-up cycle lanes, and close some roads in cities to traffic (apart from buses).
Homemade cloth face-coverings can help reduce the risk of transmission in some circumstances. Face-coverings are not intended to help the wearer, but to protect against inadvertent transmission of the disease to others if you have it asymptomatically. A face covering is not the same as a facemask such as the surgical masks or respirators used as part of personal protective equipment by healthcare and other workers. These supplies must continue to be reserved for those who need it.
- Government is updating the rules so that, as well as exercise, people can now also spend time outdoors subject to: not meeting up with any more than one person from outside your household; continued compliance with social distancing guidelines to remain two metres (6ft) away from people outside your household;
- Exercise outside as many times each day as they wish;
- People may drive to outdoor open spaces irrespective of distance;
- Do not travel to different parts of the UK.
There is no doubt that this is a difficult time for us all. However, this is particularly difficult for those who have been affected directly, or are a part of the most vulnerable. It is vital that we continue to follow the guidance given by the government to protect ourselves and those around us. If you are somebody you know is willing to volunteer your time to help others, please see the link below to get involved. Stay home. Save lives.
To find opportunities to volunteer with charities or the NHS, please see: https://www.gov.uk/volunteering/coronavirus-volunteering