A single carer was left to look after a sheltered community of almost 50 vulnerable residents this week as the region's care sector crisis intensified.

A lack of available workers meant just one individual was responsible overnight for all those living at Barley Court, an assisted living facility in Costessey.

Residents said it resulted in slower responses to calls for help, anxiety over what would happen in the event of an emergency and, for one person, three hours sat in soiled underwear waiting to be changed.

One resident said: "The staff are wonderful and it is a lovely place normally, but this situation was awful. It would only have taken two emergencies to happen at once and you'd have probably have been looking at somebody dying."

NorseCare, which runs the facility, said it was the first time in more than five years the situation had arisen and was caused by a late staff absence.

But the incident lays bare the scale of the staffing crisis facing the care sector in Norfolk and beyond, with a perfect storm of Covid-related absences, recruitment gaps and staff vacancies taking their toll on providers.

The resident, who did not wish to be named, said: "Normally at night we have at least three or four people working and given we are assisted living that is generally enough, but that figure has been gradually getting smaller.

"We were told on Monday evening that due to sickness there would only be one person working overnight, which is just terrifying."

"If you fall over and there is nobody there to pick you up, what can you really do?"

A NorseCare spokesman said ordinarily the 12.30am until 5am shift would be staffed by two people and that to ease the strain caused by absences, some staff members had continued to work beyond their hours. The spokesman said a Covid outbreak at Barley Court had created further difficulties in filling staff slots.

"There are well documented, national issues concerning the whole of the care sector," the spokesman added.

"We continue to commend our hard-working and committed staff who continue to provide excellent care and support to our residents and tenants in what can at times, be incredibly challenging circumstances.

"We are extremely proud of the work they do to keep people safe and well supported every day, regularly going the extra mile to ensure expectations of high standards of care are met."

The spokesman added: "Only eight of the 49 tenants have extensive physical care needs that would usually require hands-on support overnight and no emergency care needs were required during that time."

Barley Court is far from the only care facility in the region facing issues over staff numbers, as some are forced to take sick leave and others leave the profession altogether.

The crisis has prompted the Home Office to make changes to immigration rules and add care workers to the 'shortage occupation list'.

This will make it easier for care providers to import workers from overseas and plug gaps being left in the sector.

Eastern Daily Press: Steve Dorrington, who runs care homes in Wells, Watton and Dereham. Picture: Ian BurtSteve Dorrington, who runs care homes in Wells, Watton and Dereham. Picture: Ian Burt

But Steve Dorrington, who runs Dorrington House Care Homes in Dereham, Watton and Wells with his wife Lorraine says "bureaucracy" means it will be three or four months before the impact of this move will show.

And Mr Dorrington said in the meantime the onus has to be on care operators to make the jobs more attractive to workers. He added that he was not surprised to hear of the staffing issue - which did not occur at one of his homes.

"Something we do is allow our staff to shape their working days around their child care needs, so losing to cost of child care effectively tops up their wage.

"We also take away a lot of the additional responsibilities care workers might have, like filling out paperwork so they concentrate on the care side of things.

"There was a time when the aim was to have a ratio of five residents to every one carer, but that is getting less and less achievable.

"If we are to reach those types of levels again a lot of work needs to be done to make the job more attractive and that will take money. It does not surprise me at all to hear that the staffing issues have come to this."

A spokesman for Norfolk County Council said: "Social care has experienced workforce shortages in the past, however, this has been exacerbated by the current national workforce shortages and increasing competition in pay from other sectors.

"Delivery of quality social care is critical for those who need either temporary or long term support and is also fundamental for the effective operation of our health system.

"But historically the social care workforce has not been valued comparably with other sectors; including health.

“Through the workforce grants the council has distributed over £10m within the sector to support recruitment and retention initiatives, increase pay, and enable overtime and support childcare costs.

"Alongside this, the council is supporting a two-year recruitment campaign linked to Norfolk Care Careers; worked alongside Norfolk and Suffolk Care Support to deliver recruitment workshops, wellbeing support, and piloted the 'earn as you learn' scheme and Norfolk Care Academy.

"In addition £44m has been allocated to support infection control and testing to the care sector, which amongst other measures has ensure staff are paid when they need to isolate.”


Care workers are among the most valuable people in our community, doing priceless work for the most vulnerable people in the county.

Much of the tasks they carry out are no different to what nurses do in hospitals and they are just as an integral a part of our health system as any.

And yet, for so long, these workers have been grossly underpaid and not even almost compensated for the antisocial hours and often more antisocial tasks they are expected to endure.

It is therefore no surprise that people working in the sector appear to be voting with their feet, prompting the need for recruitment drives and legislature changes.

Some of the tasks care workers have to do may be considered by some as menial or unskilled, but they take a special sort of person to do. They need to be dedicated, they need to be compassionate and they need to be caring.

At the very height of the pandemic, we all stood on our doorsteps and clapped our hands - but rounds of applause do not pay the bills and do not feed families.