Cllr Iain Malcolm, Leader of South Tyneside Council, discusses the measures that his council put in place to support care homes and other branches of adult social care when the pandemic hit.
Adult social care has, understandably, been one of the key areas of concern during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. Looking after those with some of the most complex needs in our communities remains at the heart of the local authority response.
Whilst our government announces major policy changes nationally, local authorities have had to step into the breach and develop immediate solutions for our communities.
As soon as the pandemic hit, we launched a recruitment campaign for adult social care. We received around 120 applications and have already recruited people as care support workers for internal services or to work with our independent providers. We are also supporting people without experience with fast track training and DBS clearance to help them secure a care role.
Partnership working between Public Health and Adult Social Care as well as Primary Care and the CCG has been key to supporting care homes through the crisis. Recognising the current high levels of anxiety, one of the first things we did was to establish a care home support service to implement and co-ordinate the support offer. Staff have made daily calls to our care homes to identify issues needing our support in areas such as PPE, supply issues, understanding bed availability and staffing levels. We have set up weekly conference calls with care home managers and fortnightly calls with the homes’ regional managers to allow us to share national, medical, nursing and public health advice on the management of outbreaks. We have been able to offer help with PPE through the Local Resilience Forum when the existing supply chain has been unable to fulfil demand. We have also worked with our providers regarding fee uplifts in recognition of the additional costs incurred during this period. Furthermore, a Care Home Dashboard was developed to allow staff to consider a range of indicators to help better understand the scale of the pandemic and provide appropriate support. This will also inform future planning for care home requirements once the crisis is over.
To help manage residents’ health needs, care homes were issued with basic medical equipment to allow staff to record key health indicators such as respiration rate, blood pressure, and temperature which staff record using the National Early Warning System. The scores are then relayed to health professionals who determine any action that needs to be taken. Clinical indicators associated with acute illness act as a trigger for assessment and early intervention, which can, and has, saved lives. Care homes have had access to dedicated GP support during this period where they have been able to contact them direct, avoiding the need for prolonged triaging systems and allowing them to build a trusted relationship with the GP and local health colleagues.
Care homes across the Borough, as well as providers supporting adults with a learning disability, have also been provided with digital tablets so that face-to-face video consultations can be held remotely with GPs if needed.
Care home staff have gone above and beyond to make sure their residents receive help with their mental health whilst having to stay indoors or shielding. By working in partnership remote consultations have been offered as well as some face-to-face contact in ‘safe spaces’ at care homes by using PPE and social distancing. New video resources and packs for people struggling with mental health issues have also been created.
The additional support provided has resulted in very complimentary feedback from our care homes. This has been particularly welcome as we face the same challenges as everyone else in terms of reduced resources and staff shortages.
For an authority such as ours which has been at the sharp end of government cuts, the pandemic has been yet another challenge to which we have simply had to rise. The £10.3m emergency funding we have been allocated across the two tranches is welcome, but in reality, falls far short of what we will need to meet the additional costs in terms of fees to sustain the provider market, demand, ensuring sufficient PPE and so on.
As one of the councils hardest hit by budget cuts we have had to save £168m since 2010. While planning for the unexpected is what councils do, when this crisis hit, our public services were chronically underfunded and overstretched.
This pandemic has affected everyone in our communities, sadly some much more harshly than others. I only hope that when the worst of this crisis is over, we can remember those services and workers who were there for us at our darkest hour. And I hope we can work together to ensure that we are never again so poorly positioned and ill-resourced to face such challenges.