A system-wide major incident has been declared in Northamptonshire as “worrying” staff shortages mean firefighters could be drafted in to help health and social care workers.
During a media briefing on Friday, chief fire officer for the county, Darren Dovey, described it as a “positive” move that meant staff across all sectors could be flexible.
However, Mr Dovey said he expected the situation to deteriorate before it gets better.
He told reporters: “We are very, very hopeful this will be relatively short term when compared to the original wave of Covid
“But we do think… that this is likely to deteriorate over the next few weeks before it gets better.
“So it’s about making sure that we are really doing what the public expects us to do as they are paying all of our wages.”
Detailing why a major incident had been declared, Mr Dovey said: “Most of that pressure is being felt in the health and social care arena… but as we are seeing across the country, staff absence rates are very, very high, admissions are increasing into hospital and social care absences and the pressure in that system is creating full system pressure.
“In order just to coordinate our activity and assist each other where we can, we felt the best way to do that was to declare a major incident and put the structures in place to be able to deal with it.”
Addressing how staff could now be flexible after the major incident declaration, Mr Dovey said: “What this is all about is all public agencies, rather than working in their own silos, are effectively coming together.
“So for example, firefighters driving ambulances, we’ve been doing that since early 2020, we’re continuing to do that but we think that may ramp up over the next couple of weeks.
“The major incident gives us a framework in order for that request to be able to be made and to proactively plan for that over the next couple of weeks.
“We’ve been asked potentially if the firefighters could help with transporting people to vaccination centres who may not be able to get there but may be vulnerable and need their booster.
“So obviously while we’ve not got people doing community-based activity, we can redivert them to do that kind of thing.”
Speaking about what help staff from other sectors could provide to care homes, Mr Dovey said: “It’s difficult to be very specific, we’ve not been asked to do anything in care homes as it stands.
“I think the issue for us is that we may do.
“We may be asked, for example, to assist with doing things like… safe and well visits in order to help facilitate discharges from hospital.
“It may well be that we help to do things like PPE fitting because we are experts at that, and so it may well be that with social care staff, or staff that work in care homes, we can assist them in ensuring that they are utilising and fitting their PPE correctly.
“It may well be that we just do some general logistics work around care homes and delivering things to care homes to make sure that they have got the items and all the equipment that they need to do their jobs correctly.
“It really depends on how the situation, or if the situation deteriorates over the next few weeks and what specific assistance is being asked for by the social care sector.”
Justin Jewitt, owner and chairman of Carewise Northampton, said the homecare service is under “enormous pressure”.
None of his 30 staff currently have Covid and are all working “flat out”, he said, adding that the provider could easily double, if not triple, its client list due to such high demand.
He told the PA news agency: “We are under enormous pressure.
“Because really, we’re the last night of defence for many of our clients, because if we aren’t able to look after them seven days a week, for any reason, then the big question is who will?
“So we’re acutely conscious of our duty of care. At the moment, we seem to be keeping it at bay, but there but for the grace of God, really.”
Chief executive of the NHS Northamptonshire Clinical Commissioning Group, Toby Sanders, said: “We would like to reassure our community that urgent services and time-critical procedures will continue, and we will contact anyone whose treatment is delayed, rebooking appointments once affected services can safely be reinstated.”
East Midlands Ambulance Service said teams have faced an “increasing demand” and a “rapidly changing scenario,” urging people only to call 999 for serious accidents and emergencies.