Fears for county's care homes amid covid-related staff shortages

A dummy COVID-19 swab is handled inside a sealed sterile tube during a demonstration by lab technici

Concern is growing over staff shortages in Norfolk care homes - Credit: PA

Fears are growing that record rates of coronavirus in Norfolk could leave the county's care homes struggling to have enough staff to look after vulnerable people.

And social care bosses are extremely worried that could also mean there is a lack of places for Covid-19 patients discharged from hospital to go to recover.

Council bosses are so worried about the impact of record coronavirus rates on care homes that they are considering whether they need to create a reserve workforce which would be able to step in if care providers do not have enough staff.

In Essex, hotels are being put on standby to take in discharged patients and council chiefs are keen not to get to that stage in Norfolk, but warn the situation is likely to get worse in the weeks ahead.

James Bullion, director of adult social care at Norfolk County Council said care providers were "under the cosh" amid rising rates of residents having the virus, increased testing and staff off sick or self-isolating.

James Bullion, director of adult social services at Norfolk County Council. Picture Norfolk County C

James Bullion, director of adult social care at Norfolk County Council. - Credit: Archant

There are currently Covid-19 cases in 132 homes across Norfolk - about 40pc of all the county's care homes.

About 80 of those are outbreaks, where there are two or more cases within the setting, and Mr Bullion said that number is likely to grow

An estimated 8pc to 9pc of staff off, either because they have contracted the virus or they have been told to self-isolate due to coming into contact with someone who has tested positive.

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Mr Bullion said: "They really are feeling under the cosh and we really are worried about the care providers.

"Our great fear is that we end up in a situation where you have homes with 50pc of the staff off, which would make it very difficult to provide continuity of care.

"We are thinking about whether we can form a reserve army together who could step in to help.

"We have got council staff members who may we may be able to repurpose and we are thinking about whether we could or would be able to respond in that way if the situation gets worse in the next four weeks."

Mr Bullion said an added complication is that bank and agency staff should only work in one setting - to prevent them transmitting the virus into homes.

Norfolk's hospitals are coming under increased pressure and are treating hundreds of people with Covid-19.

The Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. Picture: Nick Butcher

The Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. - Credit: Nick Butcher

And those people who are discharged after treatment and cannot go back home may need to go into care settings.

But Mr Bullion said there was a danger that short-staffed care homes would not be able to take those patients in.

He said: "The council's own reablement service is dealing with an outbreak while the step down centre at North Walsham Hospital is full.

"We don't want to get to a position like other councils have, where they are having to look at using hotels to discharge people to."

Mr Bullion said care home residents and staff were being vaccinated, but it would take time for that roll-out to be done.

And he said the council was also getting an increased number of calls from family members caring for loved ones at home.

He said: "We really do appreciate what those people are doing and, in my role as president of ADASS (Association of Directors in Adult Social Services), I have called for the government to support family care with financial help."

He said people who needed help should call the county council on 0344 800 8020.

Steve Dorrington, who runs care homes in Dereham, Watton and Wells-next-the-Sea, said he had 12 staff currently off and 13 residents with the virus.

Steven Dorrington. Picture: Ian Burt

Steve Dorrington - Credit: Ian Burt

He said: "We never had it this bad in the first wave. It's just so much more infectious this time.

"We are doing the best we can, but we're having to think outside the box and have appealed to the community for retired care professionals who might be able to help us."

On vaccinations, Mr Dorrington said one of the major problems was that staff and residents who have tested positive cannot have the jab.

He said: "They're coming tomorrow to vaccinate the residents, but we've 13 who have the virus, so those people cannot be vaccinated.

"And we will then have to wait three weeks to get them back in to get those people vaccinated.

"And the staff who have got it can't get vaccinated either, so we're not going to be able to get the jabs for them yet."

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