Low rates of testing for adults with disabilities and a higher death rate for those in work shows an urgent need to better support disabled people and their services through the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, new data reveals.

The Voluntary Organisations Disability Group (VODG) in collaboration with Professor Chris Hatton from Lancaster University, undertook a rapid audit exploring services for working age adults aged under 65 years, both regulated by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) and non-regulated services (such as independent living networks) to examine how the pandemic is impacting on disability services.

Professor Hatton said: “This data provides a snapshot of how the social care sector, outside of care homes for older people, is being impacted by the pandemic.

“For government and policy makers, this audit should serve as an early warning of what could be around the corner if steps aren’t taken to resolve the issues it highlights. We need greater recognition of all social care services, we need comprehensive and regular testing across the sector, and we need greater support both for disabled people and for those supporting them across the country.”

The data revealed that disabled people and the staff who support them are not being tested. Testing needs be significantly increased urgently across all settings.

Only 0.6% of people supported (61 out of 9,708) were tested for COVID-19 but of those tested, 77% (47) tested positive and a further 166 people were newly suspected of having COVID-19 but not tested.

Only 0.5% of frontline staff (36 out of 6,906) were tested for COVID-19 but of those tested, 53% (19) tested positive, 2 workers have died with a confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis, and one with a suspected diagnosis. Furthermore, 198 out of 4,658 staff were newly suspected of having COVID-19 but not tested (4.3% of staff).

The data revealed high rates of staff sickness absence – on average, 13% of frontline staff were off sick across the dates data was reported. This is putting significant strain on services and is made worse by existing workforce pressures around recruitment and retention of social care staff that existed prior to the pandemic.

That testing is not happening at speed leaves workers, their families and people supported at risk. VODG is calling for an improved testing system that goes to where people are as opposed to one that places obstacles in the way of people being tested. Testing must be followed up with contact tracing and providers need appropriate funding to enable them to pay staff who need to self-isolate as well as to hire workers where self-isolation leaves vacancies.

Personal protective equipment (PPE) is crucial to ensuring the safety of disabled people and the workforce supporting them in an appropriate and proportionate way. The supply chain for supporting the sector remains slow and undeveloped despite government assurances. The Department of Health and Social Care’s response has been primarily focused on supporting regulated care home services and this situation is leaving other services without. Supported living services, for example, are struggling to access supplies leaving them and people supported at risk.

Deaths from COVID-19 among disabled working age adults are still more common than general population death rates for the same age group.

The number of deaths reported is fewer than in some other media reports – 24 out of 11,830 people supported died with a confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis (0.2%), and 18 out of 11,830 people supported died with a suspected COVID-19 diagnosis (0.2%).

These sad deaths are low, but they are still more common than general population death rates for the same age group. These deaths are lower than some other reports on care homes for older people, which could be explained by disabled people being more likely to be support in smaller services and their own homes. In un-regulated settings (not overseen by CQC) death rates are lower.

Dr Rhidian Hughes, chief executive of VODG, said: “The NHS has been front and centre in government’s response to the pandemic, but we must also recognise support for disabled people, and not simply equate social care to older people’s care homes. If we are to comprehensively respond to this pandemic then the pressing issues around funding, personal protective equipment and testing need to be understood for everyone who needs care and support to live their lives.”



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