Southend’s most vulnerable could face care cut in ‘last resort’ coronavirus powers

Vulnerable people could have their care slashed and health assessments suspended, under ‘last resort’ powers handed to the council in response to coronavirus.

Council bosses met on Tuesday to approve plans for “last resort” social care powers, which have been passed to the authority by Government under the Coronavirus Act 2020.

If triggered, it could mean the council would no longer need to carry out detailed assessments of people’s care needs, those most in need could be prioritised above others, and the council could charge people retrospectively for the care and support they receive.

At Tuesday’s cabinet meeting, Councillor Trevor Harp (Ind), who oversees adult social care in the borough, said: “The Coronavirus Act enables us to relax certain aspects of the Care Act and we are bound by the act to put in place a plan should we need to implement any easements.

“I want to be clear that any use of the easements would be a last resort. They have to be time limited and used as narrowly and targeted as possible.

“There have been a few instances of councils up and down the country that have had to use them and all the easements have now been relaxed.

“The main areas that may trigger requirements for temporary changes could be increased social care demand, or an inadequate number of social workers, direct care staff and or nursing or residential care capacity due to the impacts of the coronavirus and people being on sick leave.

“The provision we would put in place would only apply to particular areas where they would need to be used.

“So far the effects of the pandemic in Southend have been very limited and we’ve been able to get by quite happily without even looking at invoking these easements.”

Although the powers are a “last resort”, Cllr Harp said the council needs to be prepared “should there be a bad winter”.

Powers such as prioritising those most in need were also compared with the measures taken by hospitals at the height of the pandemic.

Cllr Harp added: “If we have someone in domiciliary care and one person maybe needs help for a wash or to get dressed, they would be a lower priority than someone who needs essential life preserving medication or who can’t feed themselves,” he continued.

It is exactly what hospitals did when they needed staff to provide coronavirus care.”

Retrospective billing would also only be used if there was an incident that meant there are not enough staff to collect the usual payments at the time care is provided.

Eight councils across the country have made use of the powers but it has already caused alarm among campaign groups, such as the human rights organisation Liberty.

Sam Grant, Liberty policy and campaigns manager, said: “What we weren’t anticipating was the eagerness of some councils to trigger them without full assessment and consultation.

“Councils’ actions pave the way for vital safeguards to be stripped away just when people have become even more vulnerable. As a bare minimum councils must immediately demonstrate they have met the high standards set by the Government before they begin relaxing care rules.

“The Government and local councils should be working to shore up – not weaken – support for disabled people, their carers and those who rely on social care during this pandemic.”

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Steve Shaw

Local Democracy Reporter