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Social care ‘increasingly stretched’ with staff isolating



Social care has been ‘increasingly stretched’ because staff have been asked to isolate or are looking after children at home because they have come into contact with someone who has Covid-19.

This is according to representatives from umbrella bodies, who warned Nursing in Practice that the sector has reported surging staff shortages over the past fortnight because of Covid-related reasons.

Although the Government has said this week double-jabbed healthcare workers – including social care and practice staff – will not have to isolate if they come into contact with someone who has Covid, this will only apply in ‘exceptional circumstances’ and when their absence poses a ‘significant risk of harm’. Also, this will not help healthcare workers who, until 16 August, may have to take time off to look after children sent home to isolate for 10 days from school or holiday childcare.

Carolyn Ryves, a care home manager in Southampton, said 10 out of 120 of her care staff in recent weeks, mostly to look after isolating children. She added: ‘We’re hoping that when schools break up they’ll be fewer issues. But you never know. The staff are also really nervous about passing on Covid.’

The latest attendance figures for England show 23.3% of primary school and 32.7% of secondary school pupils were out of school last week, with 1.7m absent. Over a million were off for Covid-related reasons, but only 47,000 had Covid.

With coronavirus cases rising to nearly 46,000 on average over a seven-day period in the UK, increasing numbers of people are being asked to self-isolate by the NHS App. More than 600,000 in England were ‘pinged’ by the app between 8 to 15 July, data shows.

Professor Martin Green, chief executive of Care England, said that ‘as the number of children who are isolating because of contact with Covid increases, this is having an impact on social care staffing.’

He added: ‘Many social care staff have family responsibilities, such as caring for children and older relatives, and anything that forces them to either quarantine because of their own condition, or because they have to look after others, will have an impact on the social care services’.     

Dr Donald Macaskill, chief executive of Scottish Care, added that social care providers in Scotland ‘become increasingly stretched’ in the past few weeks because of self-isolation.

A spokesperson for trade union Unison also said members had been reporting shortages over the past fortnight for several reasons, including the ‘huge number’ of kids off school because of Covid-related reasons leading to childcare issues.

Other drivers behind staffing issues could include self-isolating staff and people leaving the sector because they object to mandatory vaccinations, announced for care home staff last month, they added.

From 19 July, schools were no longer required to have ‘bubbles’ – where children only mix within a fixed year, leading to whole year groups isolating because of one positive case. However, children must still isolate as usual when identified as a contact of a positive case.

The social care sector has grappled with chronic staffing problems since before the pandemic. In March, a National Audit Office report found that the Department of Health and Social Care had not produced a workforce strategy for social care in England since 2009.