Today, The Northern Echo launches a series of special reports looking at the fragile state of our care sector. Here we look at how the pandemic is affecting the crisis hit sector.

THE coronavirus pandemic pushed the “fragile” social care sector even closer to the edge, according to the care regulator.

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) said Covid-19 had exposed and exacerbated problems in social care such as the pressing need for reform, investment and workforce challenges.

Chief executive Ian Trenholm said: “Covid has pushed social care even closer to the edge, and we need to make sure that action takes place now, and it is more than just funding – this is funding and workforce and operations support.”

The Northern Echo:

He said providers operating on wafer-thin margins were worse off due to the impact of Covid-19.

And, noting the sector’s high workforce turnover, he said he hopes to reach a point where a 17-year-old school pupil sees social care “as an aspirational place to work”.

Mr Trenholm's comments followed the CQC's latest annual assessment of the state of health and social care in England.

The report found evidence of a lack of communication between sectors during the pandemic, with some care homes feeling “completely isolated and stranded”.

Before Covid-19, service users and professionals had raised concerns about low staffing levels in care homes reducing the quality and safety of care.

Access to services was also noted as an issue, particularly child and adolescent mental health services, residential nursing care and high-quality home care.

Mr Trenholm and CQC chairman Peter Wyman said: "Since the arrival of Covid-19, we inhabit a different world, in which all these things remain true, but so much else has changed.

"As we take stock of the health and care system’s initial response to the pandemic in order to learn lessons for the future, there are elements to build on – and elements to reassess.

"The professionalism and dedication of the people who work and volunteer in health and care has always been the system’s key strength – and from March onwards, this was more obvious than ever, as staff went to extraordinary lengths to protect those they cared for.

"This is cause for celebration – as well as for reflection on how to ensure that all staff are recognised for their work, regardless of the sector in which they deliver care.

"The progress achieved in transforming the way care is delivered is also deeply impressive."

The CQC said new ways of working which were introduced in response to Covid-19, such as use of technology, should be developed, while making sure that no one is disadvantaged in the process.