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COVID inquiry: RCN presents evidence on testing, PPE and staffing in the care sector

20 Mar 2024

Care services were chronically under-resourced to deal with pandemic pressures and lessons must be learned, we told the inquiry.

Nurses in PPE

The RCN has spoken out on behalf of members at the first preliminary hearing of Module 6 of the UK COVID-19 Inquiry, which took place yesterday (Tuesday 19 March). We’ve also presented written evidence as the inquiry began to prepare for the public hearings examining the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the care sector, due to begin in summer 2025.  

We told the inquiry that a lack of adequate staffing and the poor relation status of the social care sector affected outcomes in a number of critical areas. This included a lack of access to adequate equipment such as PPE and testing, and the decision to move patients from hospitals to social care.   

Of those who were working, their ability to work was affected by their own COVID-19 infection and a need to shield. That meant that pressures on those working were intensified ultimately leading to moral distress and sometimes psychological injury.   

We advised the inquiry that the ongoing shortages in nursing provision, particularly in the social care sector, are increasing the sector's vulnerability to a future pandemic.  

RCN surveys completed during the pandemic indicated that nursing staff in care homes were less likely to have access to appropriate PPE and were more likely to feel pressured into caring for people with COVID-19 without adequate protection than health care workers in other settings.   

Alongside the disruptions to the global supply and distribution chains, in the early stages of the pandemic, many care homes had supply issues and were competing with better funded hospitals for PPE supplies.  

Fenella Morris KC spoke on behalf of the RCN. “The appropriate analogy is perhaps a hammer hitting a wall. A weak structure – which we say was the case with the social care sector at the beginning of the pandemic – will buckle, but a robust one will not,” she said. 

We’ve asked that the inquiry considers recommending legislation that imposes accountability on central government for workforce planning and supply. 

Since it was announced an inquiry would take place, we’ve said lessons must be learned so the impact that has been felt since the COVID-19 pandemic is never repeated. As a core participant in the UK-wide inquiry and the Scottish inquiry, we want to ensure members’ experiences are properly acknowledged.   

Please take the opportunity to have your say by sharing your experiences of working throughout the COVID-19 pandemic with Every Story Matters. There’s a separate listening exercise in Scotland where there is a nation-specific inquiry taking place. The RCN’s SenseMaker tool can also be used by members to share their experiences.  

Page last updated - 02/04/2024