More than half of councils are to take ‘exceptional measures’ in the care they provide, including prioritizing ‘life-sustaining care’ due to rising numbers of social staff who are ill or isolated due to of Omicron.
A survey by the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (Adass) found that a ‘small but significant’ number of councils – 13% – had to go even further, moving to ‘life and limb care only” in at least some of their region for at least some of the time.
The survey, to which 94 councils responded, found that 49 (52%) were taking at least one “exceptional measure” to prioritize care and assess risk for at least part of their area for part of the time.
These measures are considered the “least acceptable” and include “prioritizing life-sustaining care”, such as helping someone eat rather than helping someone get out of bed or with other activities. . It also includes the inability to undertake risk assessments or to rely on the views of providers, family carers or people using the services themselves to identify risks, and leaving people with dementia, learning disabilities or poor mental health isolated or alone for longer periods than usual.
In the survey, which was conducted from December 24, 2021 to January 5, 2022, some administrators raised the question of whether care law obligations should be relaxed as they were between March 2020 and July 2021. to ensure councils can legally manage pressures. Eight of the 152 municipalities with social responsibilities had made use of this provision during this period.
The survey found that some councils were locally devising a ‘legislated’ way to relax care law obligations, but trustees questioned whether the flexibility in the legislation was sufficient to manage current risks.
Where advice had to be for ‘care of life and limbs only’, this involved restricting services to helping people eat, hydrate, bathe and change continence linen . A similar number (11%) said they had suspended support to facilitate social contact – leaving people with dementia/learning disabilities/poor mental health isolated or alone for longer periods.
Adass claimed that the “disastrous situation” social care faced before the pandemic, with “100,000 vacancies and staff leaving for better pay in shops and bars”, has “only been made worse by the increase in the number of employees sick or isolated because of Omicron”.
A National Care Forum survey, also released yesterday, showed its members in the home care and residential care sectors had vacancy rates of 18% on top of absence rates of 14% last week.
Adass warned that the country is “now in the midst of a national crisis for adult social care”, adding that “it is clear from discussions with Adass regional presidents that the situation is serious across the country but also extremely volatile”.
He said the crisis means that “every director working with board colleagues has had to make incredibly difficult decisions about who gets care and support, who gets less care and who lacks it, and how to allocate care and available support”.
“These are decisions no one wants to make. These drastic measures must not become the norm,” they added.
“The reality is that opportunities to ensure that adult social care was robust enough to withstand the current challenges posed by Omicron have repeatedly been missed, and any money that has been paid, while welcome, has been too little, too late.”
David Fothergill (Con), chair of the Local Government Association’s Community Wellbeing Council, said: “These sobering results reinforce what we have been saying for a long time, about the urgent need to address the immediate pressures facing facing social care now, including on capacity, recruitment and retention, remuneration of carers and on unmet and under-met needs.
“Councils are doing their best to help maintain the continuity of social care services. However, a greater proportion of the new health and social care tax should go directly to social care to reflect the urgency of the situation and help address these immediate pressures.