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Care home sick leave support funding will continue – Health Minister

Important support for care home staff will be sustained as a result of a planned new £27m funding package for the sector, Health Minister Robin Swann has confirmed.

The funding will support care homes to continue paying staff 80% of their salary when on sick leave for Covid-19 related reasons. This measure, first announced in June, will now be extended to the end of the 2020/21 financial year.

The £27m funding package is in addition to previously announced support packages.

It includes financial support for testing and visiting and to recognise some of the additional management time needed to respond to COVID-19.

It means expenditure can be claimed back by homes on a number of grounds, including:

  • support additional staffing costs (for instance, because of more acutely unwell residents or the need to support individuals self-isolating) and facilitate block booking of agency staff

  • continue with enhanced cleaning

  • support changes to the physical environment, include to support safe visiting.

  • meet other increased costs, such as IT.

Trusts will be provided with funds to administer applications to this fund in a regionally coordinated and consistent way. 

There will be ongoing work with the sector to ensure there is clear guidance on what can be claimed and a streamlined and efficient process for administering applications.

The Health Minister stated: “The funding package is subject to Executive sign-off. I know my colleagues around the Executive table share my commitment to fully support care homes during this pandemic.

“Every one of us in Northern Ireland has a role to play in helping to keep care home residents safe. If we can successfully push down Covid infection rates in the community, this will reduce the risk of infections spreading into homes.

 “This pandemic threatens the oldest and most vulnerable members of our society and protecting them must be at the heart of everything we do.”

Mr Swann added: “It is widely accepted that a very fine balance has to be achieved on care home visiting. I am very conscious of the extreme pressures on homes but I also do not want see their doors totally closed to visits.

“I hope the new funding package will facilitate visits – to the immense benefit of residents and their families.”

The Health and Social Care system’s regional care home surge plan has been updated in light of finding of the Rapid Learning Initiative on care homes in the pandemic. A Rapid Learning Initiative on domiciliary care will also guide actions in that sector.

Work is also ongoing to grow the social care workforce. Fifteen places have been commissioned on the Open University’s social work training programme for care workers – enabling front line staff to carry on working, providing vital care whilst training. This is a first step in improving the training and career pathways for care workers.