A care charity has warned that a scheme designed to relieve pressure on the NHS during the pandemic could collapse, if problems with insurance are not resolved.
Revitalise, which operates three respite care homes, provides space for coronavirus patients when they leave hospital, as part of the government scheme to free-up NHS beds.
However, the charity said it will be forced to start returning Covid-19 patients back to NHS wards if it cannot access the insurance it requires.
Revitalise has already stopped accepting any new coronavirus patients, in anticipation that it will have to start returning people with Covid-19 into hospitals when its insurance runs out at the end of the month.
Jan Tregelles, chief executive of Revitalise, said she had been raising concerns about the risk facing charities for weeks, but has been “ignored” by both government officials and the insurance industry.
Royal Sun Alliance, which currently provides the charity's insurance cover, says it is aware of the issue and is working with the government and other insurance firms to try and resolve the problem.
The government's Winter Plan
Last November, the government announced plans to discharge non-acute coronavirus patients from hospital to care homes and other approved settings, where they could remain during quarantine without taking up NHS resources.
The plan, published by the Department for Health and Social Care, said the care regulator was preparing to work with 500 charities and other organisations for the scheme.
The list of participating organisations is confidential, but Revitalise said that only 131 bodies had agreed to take part, well short of the government target.
The low numbers are partly “because of this [insurance] problem”, Tregelles told Civil Society News.
She said that no insurance company in the country was willing to provide indemnity cover for work with coronavirus patients beyond the end of this month. The charity’s existing policy with Royal Sun Alliance runs out on 31 January.
Even partial cover and insurance from companies overseas was so expensive it was “unviable”, she added.
The indemnity insurance is necessary in case the family of a staff member or patient sues an organisation after a coronavirus outbreak.
Risks for charities
Media reports over the weekend suggested that at least one private care provider, which had also been unable to secure indemnity insurance, had decided to cover their own financial risks.
This is not an option for charities like Revitalise, Tregelles said, because it would expose the board to potentially "huge financial costs".
She asked: “Our trustees are all volunteers. Why should they be expected to take on so much financial risk?”
Work will become unviable
Tregelles said: “It is shocking that specialist care charities such as Revitalise are being forced to send Covid-19 patients back into hospitals, despite all of our resources and staff, because we are not getting the vital support from the insurance sector and government that we need.
“Not one UK insurance provider is prepared to provide indemnity for the provision of care and support to people with Covid-19.
“Even partial cover comes with a massive increase in premium and conditions which make any such provision unviable.
“We have been trying to solve this issue with both insurance companies and government for weeks and have been ignored.”
She accused insurance companies of “profiteering off the misery of Covid-19 and in this hour of need for the NHS” and called on the government to reach “an agreement with insurance companies”.
“The government have the power to fix this and they must not fail the NHS now,” Tregelles added.
Insurers in discussion with government
The Association of British Insurers confirmed that it was aware of the situation, and was in talks with the government to try and find a solution.
An ABI Spokesperson said: “We are in discussion with the government to assist with resolving some of the challenges facing care homes seeking to take in Covid-19 positive patients.”
A spokesperson for Royal Sun Alliance said the firm was "committed to playing our part to support efforts to tackle the pandemic at this extraordinary time".
They added: "Changes to the way care homes are operating requires changes to their insurance policies, so that employees and residents have the protection they need.
"We are working closely with our peers and government to ensure that this vital sector has the right cover and support in place as they take in Covid-19 patients."
The Department for Health and Social Care declined to comment.