A council stopped carrying out full care assessments for a number of vulnerable adults as it was hit by the Covid-19 crisis, it has been revealed.
Staffordshire County Council ‘deferred’ the needs assessments after the government relaxed the requirements of the 2014 Care Act, to help local services cope with the coronavirus.
Under the Care Act, authorities must assess the care needs of all vulnerable individuals and establish whether they are eligible for publicly-funded support.
But in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the government removed the legal need to meet certain provisions within the Care Act, as long as individuals’ human rights were not breached.
Staffordshire is one of five councils in England to have made use of the so-called easements so far.
The county council temporarily suspended the full Care Act assessments, with shorter, less detailed assessments being carried out instead. It is understood that most of these took place remotely, due to the risk of infection.
Earlier this month, following an increase in capacity, the council stopped using the Care Act easements and restored the full assessments.
County councillor Alan White, deputy leader and cabinet member for health, care and wellbeing said: “The only easement we have had to enact so far is deferring a number of people’s full Care Act assessments. Everyone still had an assessment to ensure that they were properly looked after.
“Any potential use of Care Act easements has been reviewed on a fortnightly basis. After seeing an increase in capacity at the start of May, we are no longer using Care Act easements.”
A report to cabinet explained that easements would be used in a ‘planned and managed way’ so that the impact on individuals would be mitigated.
The report states: “We temporarily introduceda shortened Covid-19 assessment to determine whether people needed care and support and whether this was required immediately. People were informed that their full care act assessment would be completed at a later date.
“This has helped maintain staff capacity to support the Covid-19 hospital discharge pathway and ensure that everyone can be assessed in a timely way.”
According to the Care Quality Commission, the social care watchdog, easements have also been used by Warwickshire County Council, Solihull Council, Derbyshire County Council and Coventry City Council.
Campaigners at Liberty and Disability Rights UK have written to Staffordshire County Council and the other authorities, raising concerns over the use of easements, which they fear could leave vulnerable people at greater risk of harm.
Sam Grant, Liberty policy and campaigns manager, said: “Councils’ actions not only risk being unlawful – if you are disabled or rely on social care they could leave you without the most basic support. The fallout of this will inevitably be even greater strain on the NHS, as people who depend on carers for things like food and help using the bathroom risk being left all but abandoned.
“We were concerned by these easements when the coronavirus legislation was introduced because time and again, those at the margins feel the sharpest end of a crisis. 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.”
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