The Omicron variant coupled with care sector recruitment problems have forced Derbyshire County Council to seek volunteer support to help staff their 23 care homes, according to a social care boss.
Around 100 people have stepped forward since Helen Jones, executive director of adult social care and health, sent out a blanket email to all 30,000 council employees asking for help as the authority struggles with an unprecedented strain on staffing.
She said: “It’s really exacerbated by the number of people who are getting Omicron – testing positive, having to isolate.
“But also there is the general issue with staff absence and you’ve got staff working extra shifts, having to cancel their annual leave etc.
“We all know we’re more likely to get ill in those circumstances when we’re just tired.”
Around 25 per cent of the 1,215 staff working across council’s care homes are currently off sick.
Ms Jones insisted there had been no cutbacks of care home staff, but that Derbyshire, in line with the rest of the country, was struggling to fill care home job vacancies.
“There has been difficulty in recruiting, particularly on the back of the pandemic to care homes and even more so to the home care,” she explained.
“That’s where nationally again we’ve had a real issue in terms of being able to recruit.
“Our recruitment tends to be on a rolling basis in the county to ensure that we’re doing everything that we can.
“We’ve tried to recruit so that we can reduce the use of agency staff, but we still use agency staff where we need to.”
In December, a motion was put forward by Labour councillors Ruth George and Lud Ramsey at full council to make the authority a Living Wage employer, increasing the hourly rate of the lowest paid members of staff.
They argued that doing so might help with recruitment problems in the care sector, however the majority of members voted against it.
The appeal for volunteers from the council’s wider-staff was made to help out with tasks such as laundry, catering and providing emotional support to vulnerable residents.
However Ms Jones said this was only done as a back-up plan in the ‘worst scenario’ and she hoped it wouldn’t be necessary to use them.
She commented: “We made a call for volunteers in the context of recognising the fragility of some of our workforce in some of our homes.
“We wanted to have a plan in place if we got to that point where things got really really difficult.”
While volunteers may not have qualifications relating to care, Ms Jones said many people will have experience when it comes to caring for a family member or friend.
She added: “What we’re looking for is people who have the right skill set in terms of the right values, who are caring, and I know lots of colleagues who work in Derbyshire County Council who are absolutely those people.”
She said volunteers would need to be double-jabbed in line with Government care home guidance and ideally be DBS checked, adding that DBS checks were being sought for those who hadn’t already had them.
When the Government placed a deadline of November 11 on care home staff to get double-jabbed or face losing their jobs, the council were forced to remove 19 unvaccinated members of staff from front-line care home duties.
Ms Jones said there is currently no national mandate to do the same for staff members who have not had their booster jab.
As part of the authority’s ongoing consultation over its proposal to close seven of the homes, it is hosting meetings with residents and members of the public.
Questions have arisen over the necessity to hold many of these meetings virtually, instead of postponing them until they can be held in person, to which Ms Jones responded: “Everybody knows seven care homes will have to move out by September anyway.
“In that situation I think we would all want, if it was us moving or a loved one moving out, to know whether that would be a temporary move, because there had been a decision made to refurbish the home or not close the home, or whether that is going to be a permanent move.”
She said any delay to the consultation process would lessen the chance of residents having that information prior to being moved.
Ms Jones concluded: “I know my colleagues are doing all they can in these unprecedented circumstances to care for the people in the care homes.
“They’re not at all points in time able to do everything they would like to be doing because of the workforce difficulties, but huge credit to them – everything they are doing.
“We’re extraordinarily grateful that they are offering so much of their own time doing extra shifts and we know that they will be providing the best care that they can.”