Vulnerable people are being left in their beds because of a staffing shortage which is forcing carers to prioritise basic “life and limb” care, social care bosses have warned.
More than half of councils who responded to a survey by the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (Adass) have been forced to take “exceptional measures” to ration care as Omicron exacerbates existing shortages.
This includes carers supporting someone to eat or drink over helping another client get out of bed or complete other activities, or leaving those with dementia, learning disabilities or poor mental health isolated or alone for longer.
Adass president Stephen Chandler said these were “extremely difficult” decisions “no-one wants to take”.
Last week, he told the PA news agency the shortages mean some of the most vulnerable in society are experiencing “lockdown by another name” as they cannot be supported to fully lead their lives.
He said: “These are decisions that no-one wants to take and many are unacceptable. They are drastic measures and must not become the norm.
“The roots of this lie in the failure to fund adult social care sustainably over the past decade and to recognise and reward properly the committed, courageous and compassionate people who work in it.
“Opportunities were repeatedly missed to ensure that adult social care would be robust enough to withstand the challenges posed by Omicron. Any money that has been forthcoming, though welcome, has been too little, too late.”
The Government said it is doing “everything we can” to support care staff through extra funding, a campaign to improve recruitment and retention, and by expanding the Health and Care Worker visa scheme.
Adass surveyed its members about what contingency measures they were taking in response to concerns about staffing levels, winter pressures, and the rapid spread of Omicron.
The survey ran between Christmas Eve and January 5 and was responded to by 94 of the 152 English councils responsible for social services.
It found all were taking measures they judged to be essential, although not desirable, such as redeploying library staff into care roles.
And 49 were having to take measures considered the “least acceptable” for some of the time in some parts of their local area.
Some 43% of councils said they were prioritising support to those most at risk and essential activities only, while 13% said they were delivering “life and limb” care only – helping people eat, drink, go to the toilet, and changing continence laundry – at least some of the time.
Around one in 10 (11%) said they were leaving some people with dementia, learning disabilities or mental ill health alone for longer periods.
The pressures mean a third of councils are having to rely on unpaid carers for more support.
Respondents also highlighted common areas of concern that they wanted to be escalated to the Government.
These include short-term fixes failing to address long-term problems, for example around staff pay and progression, being unable to access enough therapists and physios to support community reablement, and concern for a “tired and stressed” workforce.
Adass concluded: “In summary, the need for these measures illustrates the fact that these are unprecedented times. None of the actions described is ideal or desirable and this evidence shows why we describe the current position as a national emergency in adult social care.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “Care staff are working incredibly hard and we are doing everything we can to support them, including with a £462.5 million recruitment fund, expanding the Health and Care (Worker) visa scheme, and our ‘Made with Care’ recruitment campaign.
“Over the course of the pandemic, we have made available more than £2.9 billion in specific funding for adult social care.
“More than 50 million PCR and 142 million LFD kits have been delivered to care homes and we have invested a further £478 million to support safe and timely hospital discharges to get patients into the best place for their care and support to continue.”