This short guidance on Winter Planning is provided for information purposes only. While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this information, the Homecare Association cannot accept any liability for errors of fact or omissions, or for any loss caused by reliance on the Winter Planning Guidance or any documents created using the Winter Planning Guidance.
Winter weather conditions could have a significant impact on your homecare organisation, staff and service users. But with the right planning and preventative measures, and a proactive approach when cold weather starts, you can help ensure that disruption to care for service users is minimised.
All homecare providers should routinely prepare and review their contingency plans, which outline what disruptive events could affect services and what steps could be taken to avoid this disruption.
Winter planning will form an important part of contingency planning, and all providers should have a robust winter preparedness strategy. Not only will this help your business to continue to deliver care, but it will also demonstrate to regulators that your business practices are safe, effective and well-led.
The first step in preparing for winter is to access and read governmental winter action plans to get advice on general steps to improve preparedness.
Providers should download a copy of the national winter plan (or devolved administration equivalents), and local action plans by local authorities.
Links to these plans can be found in the Resources section of this guidance document. The Care Provider Alliance (CPA) of which the Homecare Association is a member, has produced guidance on how to produce contingency plans. This can also be found in the further Resources section of this guidance.
The national winter plan and local action plan contain the contingency plans that should come into effect at both national and local levels should the UK experience the disruption of snow, ice or other adverse weather.
In addition, there is the challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Homecare Association’s email alerts to members contain news and advice and there is guidance for social care providers on COVID-19.
This winter planning guidance focuses on areas that need special consideration in the event of weather-induced disruption and keeping the workforce healthy in winter.
It is vital to keep the care workforce and family carers healthy so they are fit and able to look after those vulnerable people who depend on them.
With this in mind, care providers should make sure that they are familiar with winter-onset conditions, such as ‘flu, and what steps need to be taken to minimise the risk to both care workers and service users.
Ensure that you are familiar with flu vaccine eligibility in your area of the UK, and encourage your staff where possible to get vaccinated.
It may also be helpful to give information about ‘flu and vaccination to service users so they can decide whether to be vaccinated (if they are able to).
Government guidance for flu vaccination in England confirms that staff working for a registered domiciliary care provider who are directly involved in the care of service users are eligible for a free flu vaccination.
The guidance stresses that all social care workers are expected to be vaccinated against flu and COVID-19, unless there is a valid reason why they cannot be vaccinated. This is to help protect the vulnerable people they care for, and because contracting coronavirus (COVID-19) and flu together can be very serious. Given that symptoms for flu and COVID are very similar, widespread vaccination against flu will make it easier to target COVID-19 testing and avoid disruption to care services.
Staff do not need to present their ID at their local GP practice (or local vaccination centre) or pharmacy. However, it would be advisable to have a workplace photo ID badge, a letter from their employer confirming their employment as a frontline social care worker or a recent payslip, to show the vaccinator, to make the process as straight forward as possible.
There are different types of ‘flu vaccination depending on the age of the recipient.
The Scottish Government is offering the free flu vaccine to social care workers employed by local authorities, private providers and third sector organisations who deliver direct personal care, including care for persons at home (including housing support and care at home services):
The guidance states each NHS Board will work with social care organisations providing direct hands-on care to arrange flu vaccination for social care staff.
More information about getting a vaccination: https://www.gov.scot/news/getting-the-flu-vaccine/
Providers should check local services to see which offer the vaccination, and what proof of identification they require from care workers.
Domiciliary care workers are eligible for free ‘flu vaccinations in Wales from most community pharmacies:
The guidance says a high rate of social care worker vaccinations, among those who are able to be vaccinated, will help protect individual staff members and reduce the risks of passing on flu infections to the most vulnerable people in their care.
Managers of domiciliary care services have a leadership role in encouraging their staff to get this protection. Flu vaccination should be actively promoted and encouraged by employers of domiciliary carers to help staff view it as part of their duty of care to protect themselves, their clients and their families from infection.
Care workers in Northern Ireland are also encouraged to have a free ‘flu vaccination this year:
Homecare staff need to present their ID to confirm eligibility.
Homecare employers will have the list of pharmacists who are involved in the scheme or see map of participating pharmacists.
Providers should have a robust plan in place that covers the eventuality that a substantial number of care staff call in sick at the same time or show up for shifts with an illness and have to be sent home.
You must take steps to ensure that your rota can adapt and be changed in the event that multiple members of staff are unavailable due to illness. This may involve liaising with other care providers in the area or your local authority, or taking on additional care staff in the winter, if possible.
Your winter plan should also cover what to do if service users catch seasonal illnesses such as ‘flu or colds. This may involve re-assessing the care plan to more closely monitor affected service users, or supplying care staff with additional PPE.
Homecare Association has produced an infection control train the trainer programme, which can be purchased. More in the Resources section of this guidance.
Adverse weather conditions, such as snow and ice (or even fallen trees etc. from high winds) can all cause major disruption to road networks, particularly in rural areas.
Make sure that plans are put in place to ensure that as many service users as possible can be reached in the event that roads are blocked. This might involve assigning care workers to small local areas so that visits can be walked between (assuming it is safe to do so).
If you provide cars for care workers to use, it might be useful to make sure that some or all of them can be fitted with snow chains. Where possible, ensure that only staff members who are confident in driving in adverse conditions are called upon to do so. Check with your business/car insurers to make sure that this type of travel is covered under your policy.
Again, this must be judged carefully. Careworkers should not be sent out into dangerous situations.
Although it is reasonable to assume that most care worker teams will have some means of communicating with the care manager/head office, make sure that all staff recognise the importance of keeping mobile phones charged and ready for use in the case of emergencies.
If there are prolonged periods of time where roads are inaccessible due to adverse weather or other supply disruption, it is possible that there may be general or local shortages of fuel available at service stations.
In this situation, it is possible that fuel could be rationed or limited, with drivers only able to access small amounts of fuel at a time. This could provide an enormous challenge for providers who rely on care workers using their own cars, or company cars, to get between visits, particularly in more rural locations.
As part of your contingency plan, you should make provision in your policies and procedures to take this into account. It is worth familiarising yourself with the Government emergency plans for fuel shortages, a link to which can be found in the resources section of this document.
You may want to think about how you can keep your service going in the event that fuel is rationed. This could include requiring care workers to use alternative modes of transport, if possible, electric cars if available, and re-arranging rotas to keep travel time between care visits at a bare minimum.
Make sure that processes are in place to identify which service users are particularly vulnerable to isolation, taking into account the complexity and severity of care needs.
In an emergency, some service users with less complex needs may have nearby family members, friends or neighbours who can ensure their safety, and others will not. These are the ones that you may need to be prioritise in an emergency situation.
It may be helpful to have a discussion with service users, where possible, to see whether they have regular contact with neighbours, friends or family who may be able to check on them in the event of poor weather.
In much the same way that plans are put in place to ensure service user safety during heatwaves, providers should also have plans put in place to make sure that service users are kept safe and comfortable during the cold temperatures of winter.
Service users should be prompted to turn on central heating etc. ideally to keep the home at a temperature of around 210C for living room areas, and at least 180C for sleeping areas.
Where possible, ensure that service users have access to additional blankets and warm clothing, particularly if the service user has mobility issues or struggles to get dressed.
Many areas run Warm Homes scheme to help ensure people are receiving the benefits they are entitled to, and can make their home energy efficient.
It is possible that service users may experience temporary power-cuts due to high-winds or flooding. It may be helpful to check that service users have access to a torch, hot water bottle and other essentials in the event that the home loses electricity. This could be both before and during any expected bad weather.
Make sure that head office staff are aware of where to find contact information for utility companies in the event that service users cannot contact for themselves.
In the same way that access to service users can be affected by bad weather conditions, supplying medication could also prove challenging when travel options are limited. Your winter plans should prepare for this possibility.
Providers should be able to identify all service users for whom they have medication responsibilities (whether this is prompting or administering) and put plans in place to make sure these service users will still receive their medication in the event that travel is disrupted.
This is vital where medication is prescribed in weekly or fortnightly amounts, and is therefore more likely to run out in the event of disruption to supplies or travel.
Speak to your local GP and pharmacist to discuss possible options in the event of this scenario occurring.
Providers should be familiar with their insurance policy, and how far their coverage extends with regards to incidents that may affect your care workers, such as injury through accidents or falls on the ice, etc.
The Homecare Association’s preferred insurance provider, Towergate, recommends that homecare providers check their premises are ready for the cold weather.
Heating, plumbing, and electrical services all need to be running well, and car parks are cleared of snow and ice.
Insurance tip: make sure you have business interruption cover in place and ask for input from your broker and insurer.
It is also a good idea to take steps to protect your employees from slips and trips when they enter your premises, so stock up on grit or salt. Providers will need to risk assess service users’ premises and provide non-slip footwear if workers have to negotiate hazardous drives, steps or footpaths.
Insurance tip: Document what you do – this will help you if you have a claim.
Homecare businesses also need to carefully plan how they will continue to provide support for service users, and identify the most vulnerable people, with a contingency plan that covers all eventualities.
Insurance tip: Don’t just have a plan, communicate it, test it and review it regularly. Record everything you do and check with your insurance broker for any implications for your insurance cover.
Many providers have their own action plan – a checklist of things to do both before and during the winter. The following ‘Top 20’ action points have been compiled with the help of providers and insurers, to help guide providers through the winter planning process:
- Download both national and local winter plans by government, health authorities and local councils. See what resources are available to help your planning.
- Check and revise your emergency plans, so they are fit for this winter. Check you have current emergency and family contact details for service users. Sign up for severe weather warnings and weather forecasts, so you are aware of any predicted snow and ice.
- Review care plans to identify vulnerable service users and develop a system so you can quickly identify who has support if you are unable to visit and who does not; be ready to revise rotas and contact relatives/neighbours and users about rota changes.
- Check that your vulnerable service users are ready for winter. Make sure your staff have access to essential supplies to keep clients warm and stocked with essential provisions. Be prepared to handle any emergency medication issues.
- Liaise with your local council so you are part of its emergency planning process. Develop plans with them to support those in remote areas. Consider making reciprocal arrangements with other providers.
- Address workforce planning, and decide what happens if key managers or staff are sick or unable to get to the office or visit service users.
- Make sure you know which staff are likely to have difficulty with transport and work out how you can help them. Develop a moveable office so you can run your office remotely if you can’t use your usual office; consider if staff need to be set up to work remotely from home or an alternative address. Review your lone working policy so you can support staff working alone in adverse weather conditions. Make sure you know where everyone is.
- Plan for using alternative transport in poor weather, for example, four- wheel vehicles that could help your staff reach service users living in remote areas. Make sure your drivers are competent and experienced enough to drive in adverse conditions.
- Ensure careworkers’ vehicles are properly maintained so that they are safe in poor weather.
- Be aware of road closures and delays in general and check your insurance policy to make sure you have suitable cover.
- Equip your vehicles with shovels, snow tyres or chains, if necessary. Consider if your staff can walk to users, or use alternative transport.
- Ensure that your staff can communicate with your operations centre. Have a stock of portable mobile phone battery banks to charge mobile phones in an emergency. Make sure your staff know who to contact if they run into difficulty and distribute an emergency phone list.
- Risk assess the places your workers need to access and check they have suitable protective clothing and footwear to visit service users safely.
- Make sure service users have access to contact numbers for utility companies in the event that their heating breaks down or they have burst water pipes.
- When things return to normal, review your experiences, and those of your staff, so you can learn from what happened.
- Don’t forget to thank your staff for their hard work and effort during adverse weather conditions.[i]
[i] The Top Tips list is based on a checklist originally produced by Homecare Association members Scott Care.
For online winter weather help and advice including winter planning, see:
- Northern Ireland
Met Office UK Severe Weather Warnings: www.metoffice.gov.uk/public/weather/warnings
NHS website – The Flu Vaccine:
Public Health England: Flu immunisation scheme for social care workers in England:
Flu vaccination in Wales – Health and social care workers:
Flu vaccination in Scotland – Health and social care workers:
Flu vaccination in Northern Ireland – Health and social care workers:
Stay healthy this winter:
Government emergency fuel plans:
Care Provider Alliance – guidance on flu vaccination and template letter for employers of proof of workers’ employment status (this requires a small amount of updating for use in 2021/22):
Care Provider Alliance contingency plans: