Some of the most vulnerable people in society are experiencing “lockdown by another name” as care staff shortages mean they are increasingly unable to fully live their lives, a social care boss has said.
Stephen Chandler, president of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (Adass), said providers across England were reporting absences of between 5% and 10% of their workforce.
He said services were experiencing a triple threat – staff isolating or off sick with Covid, an increasing number of outbreaks in care settings, and problems with accessing vital tests and delayed results.
Mr Chandler said he was aware of two councils where decisions had been made to reduce the number of visits carers could make to some people in their homes on a case-by-case basis.
And he said two national supported living providers, who help people with mental health needs and learning disabilities to live independent lives, had told him they were not able to support people going out as much.
Mr Chandler told the PA news agency that some vulnerable people were not being helped to go to day centres, go shopping or carry out other activities because of staff shortages.
This meant they may not be supported to leave their homes for weeks, posing a risk to their health and wellbeing through increased isolation and inactivity.
He said: “That extra support – the normal support for them – that’s no longer possible because of the staff absences.
“So we want people to understand that just because you happen to have a learning disability or you’ve got a severe mental illness, and you’re not able to go out, that is not a good thing – there is a real risk that that person will lose some of their independence.
“And we all know how difficult lockdown was for each of us – this is lockdown by another name.”
He added: “I suspect, if I was to talk to 10 providers, I would get varying degrees of the same picture.”
In Oxfordshire County Council, where Mr Chandler is director of adult services, one day-service had to be temporarily closed before Christmas when a staff member tested positive.
Councils across the country were ready to deploy workers from other services, such as library staff, to help fill care rota gaps, he said.
Adass is currently surveying the 151 councils in England with adult social care responsibility about what measures in their contingency plans they have had to put in place to cope.
Mr Chandler also suggested it would be “helpful” if the period for which a care home restricts movements in and out of the premises after it experiences a Covid-19 outbreak was shortened, for example to 14 days if negative tests are recorded.
Currently, if a care home has at least two coronavirus cases, outbreak control measures – such as closing to new admissions, and indoor visitors except those with essential caregiver status – can be in place for 28 days.
Shortening this period, if safe to do so, could enable more family members to visit their loved ones, as well as helping NHS services safely discharge patients.
Jackie O’Sullivan, executive director of communications, advocacy and activism at the learning disability charity Mencap, said Mr Chandler’s “lockdown by another name” assessment “resonates with our experience”.
She said: “Covid has been with us for two years now and during that time, many people with a learning disability have not received the support they need.
“This has led to deterioration in mental and physical health and the loss of vital life skills, and as a result some people’s support needs have increased and families have ended up in crisis.
“Care workers are already going above and beyond to ensure people with a learning disability get the right support – but they are trying to do this in a sector under immense pressure.
“Social care now relies on the goodwill of good people and this is not sustainable.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We appreciate the incredible efforts of adult social care staff throughout the pandemic and have provided record funding and support to boost numbers during this difficult time.
“In the past 12 months we have made almost £600 million available via recruitment and retention funds, as well as launched three recruitment campaigns. We have also committed £500 million to assist with staff training, qualifications and support as part of the £5.4 billion Health and Social Care Levy.
“We are prioritising health and care staff for tests and have reduced the self-isolation period so they can finish their self-isolation sooner and return to work safely. We continue to work closely with the care sector and expect and encourage providers to facilitate home visits wherever possible, and to do so in a risk managed way.”