Today, The Northern Echo launches a series of special reports looking at the fragile state of our care sector. Here we look at the weaknesses exposed in the sector.

ISSUES affecting the care sector like low pay, a lack of investment and fragmentation of services have all been laid bare during the coronavirus pandemic, according to industry experts.

The impact of Covid-19 saw thousands of people across the country come out to clap for carers last year in tribute to the sacrifices made by health and social care workers on the front line of fighting the disease.

Over the next couple of days, The Northern Echo will be looking at how the pandemic has affected providers, minimum wage workers who have not always had sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE) or whose low pay has made it difficult to take time off work when ill or self-isolating, and families who have unable to see each other during the crisis, as well as how care could be reformed in the future.

Specialist care organisations, unions like Unison and charities including Age UK say now is the time to tackle longstanding problems in the sector around joining up health and care services and the funding of care.

Unison, which was at the forefront of calls to provide workers with PPE last year, is campaigning for a national care service.

Northern regional secretary Clare Williams, who described the impact on some homes as "catastrophic", said: “The pandemic has really highlighted all the weaknesses in the sector and we think there should be a national strategy around care.”

She added: “Unison has been highlighting for some time to the government that social care needs a proper overhaul in what is now a completely privatised care home sector.

“The pandemic has highlighted issues around a very fragmented sector.”

Successive governments over the last two decades have promised action to reform the sector.

In 2019, after being elected, Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised to “fix the crisis in social care once and for all.”

Earlier this year, he appeared before the House of Commons Liaison committee and said he planned to bring forward plans for improvement later this year.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We are committed to ensuring everyone receiving care can continue to access the best support possible during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“From the start of the pandemic, we have been doing everything we can to protect care homes and have placed residents and staff in the highest priority groups for vaccinations. We have also provided over £1.4 billion in specific funding for adult social care, access to £4.6 billion for local authorities to address pressures on public services including adult social care, free PPE, and increased staff testing to identify new cases and protect residents.

“Delivering a care system that is fit for the future remains a top priority and, following new measures set out in the Health and Care Bill White Paper, we will bring forward proposals for social care reform later this year.”

Tomorrow, we will be taking an in-depth look at how low pay has affected the sector and calls by Labour's Angela Rayner, who will be writing exclusively for the Echo, to increase the wages of carers.