The Government has denied that social care is being treated as a “Cinderella” service as organisations continue to report insufficient and delayed supplies of protective equipment.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said it was “certainly not the case” that social care workers are being forgotten about during the coronavirus outbreak.
The effort to stop the spread of Covid-19 has prompted complaints from some care providers that they are without enough personal protective equipment (PPE) such as face masks, gowns and gloves.
The spokesman said PPE is being delivered and tests are being conducted in care homes when required.
He said: “There were over 20 million items of PPE which were delivered yesterday.
“We are prioritising supply of PPE to all sectors with a clinical need and this includes ensuring staff in care homes have all the protection they need.
“We have now provided 7.8 million pieces of PPE to over 26,000 care home settings.”
Care homes, charities and social care organisations have repeatedly sounded the alarm about a lack of protective equipment for staff.
Earlier this week, Mark Adams, chief executive of social care charity Community Integrated Care, said supplies remain “woefully inadequate”.
Current deliveries by the Government of protective masks do not “even scratch the surface of the required supply”, he said.
Robert Kilgour, chairman of Scottish care home operator Renaissance Care, said care home staff were feeling like “second-class carers” amid the continuing shortage.
He said care homes are experiencing “increasingly long delays” as they wait for PPE to reach them, and said there had been some instances of equipment being diverted to the NHS.
Addressing concerns of shortages, the No 10 spokesman added: “I think I have been very honest that there have been issues around ensuring that we have got the PPE in places that we need to get it to.
“That’s why we have set up the dedicated hotline that people can ring 24 hours a day.
“We have also been utilising the military to ensure supplies get to the places they are needed.”
Jane Townson, chief executive of United Kingdom Homecare Association, said: “We appreciate how hard many people in Government are working to source PPE, and the Minister for Care and officials are making an impact.
“The reality on the ground, however, is that many care providers have yet to receive additional funding from local government to cover the exceptional costs from Covid-19, even as PPE becomes more freely available.
“More widely, social care has also not been routinely recognised in communications by Government, including in official technical guidance.
“It has also not been included overtly in national initiatives to recruit volunteers and workers from overseas for the NHS. All of this places additional strain on the ability to maintain and build capacity to support people in their communities.”
Martin Green, chief executive for Care England – which represents independent providers, said members remained concerned about current and future supplies, as well as the lack of testing.
He said: “In both these areas there is a need to significantly increase the supply of PPE to care providers, and also to ensure that testing is rolled out as soon as possible.”
The National Pensioners Convention (NPC), which has many members living in private and public sector care homes, said government policy toward providers was “naive” and “ludicrous”.
Guidance from the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), published on April 2, says that “negative tests are not required prior to transfers/admissions into the care home” of those being discharged from hospital.
Jan Shortt, NPC general secretary, said: “To expect care homes to put at risk already vulnerable people by taking in patients without being tested is ludicrous.
“The outcome is to potentially spread the virus by admitting untested patients into care homes, thereby increasing the risk to others.”
She added: “It is naive of the government to believe that limited contact of a personal nature by care workers to deliver the care needed will protect them from contracting the virus.
“Every single front line worker must be tested and have the personal protective clothing demanded of this situation.”