The need for “radical change” in how social care is delivered has never been clearer, a council leader has said.
Councillor Emlyn Dole said his Carmarthenshire authority was recruiting carers and social work staff but still has at least 80 vacancies – nearly one in five of the department’s overall workforce.
Domiciliary care and social work waiting lists for assessments are at their highest ever and patients needing care at home or in a residential setting are stuck in hospital despite being well enough to be discharged.
These issues are not new and Carmarthenshire’s experience is reflected across Wales and the UK, but factors such as the reduction in European Union workers after Brexit, an increase in vulnerability and frailty among older people, a fatigued workforce, and more demand for domiciliary care due to a reluctance by elderly people to go into residential care homes have made the problem acute.
Last month the Association of Directors of Social Services wrote to the Welsh Government say the situation was “starting to limit our ability to support some of our most vulnerable people in the community”.
Most of Carmarthenshire Council’s domiciliary carers now earn £11 per hour and efforts are being made to develop a career pathway to make the role more attractive.
Speaking at a meeting of full council Cllr Dole asked the council’s four group leaders to join him in writing to the Welsh Government to ask for significant changes.
“Commitments to deliver the Living Wage for care staff are no longer sufficient as even with substantially higher rates we are struggling to recruit and retain staff,” said the Plaid Cymru leader.
“I want to call for a model of funding to be introduced that transform pay and conditions for care staff in all sectors and that that we invest millions in creating rotas and care runs for domiciliary care staff that allows them to spend more time with clients and provide time to train and reflect on the job they do.
“Short-term one-off funding, whilst welcome, is not the solution we know that from years of experience.”
Cllr Dole said improving outcomes for recipients of social care and preventing hospital admissions would flow from a stable, well-resourced system.
Social care is devolved in Wales but requires funding from Westminster.
Last month legislation was passed by MPs to set up a £36bn health and social care tax over three years but only £5.4bn of that is earmarked for social care.
Former UK Government health secretary Jeremy Hunt said the settlement, while generous, didn’t channel enough money into social care.
Earlier this month public spending watchdog Audit Wales said the Welsh Government had focused on joining up health and social care in recent years.
Welsh ministers have said they will consider consulting on a Wales-only solution if a UK approach was not possible.
Wales’s 22 councils have been spending more and more on social services – more than £2bn in 2019-20, the equivalent of £645 per person.
In response to Cllr Dole’s comments a Welsh Government spokeswoman said it regularly met councils and health boards and had provided £48m to help councils ease pressures in social care this year.
She said the Welsh Government was committed to creating a stronger, better-paid social care workforce.
“Our recent national recruitment campaign resulted in an increase in job applications and we will be repeating this activity,” she said.
“Ministers are committed to delivering the Real Living Wage (£9.50 per hour) for social care workers early in this Senedd term and we will continue to work with the Social Care Fair Work Forum on additional measures to improve employment and conditions within social care that go beyond pay.”
Meanwhile the chief executive of NHS Wales Andrew Goodall said this week that it faces its most challenging period as it tries to address a backlog of planned treatments and operations.
Health minister Eluned Morgan, speaking to BBC Wales, said staffing pressures could force some health boards “to look at how they’re giving their services” and that she couldn’t rule out some routine services being suspended.