HUNDREDS of frontline social care staff in Swansea have taken up the offer of “psychological first aid”.
Amy Hawkins, the council’s interim head of adult services, said it was a pilot scheme and part of the approach the department was taking to reduce high sickness levels and help staff.
Adult services staff took an average of nearly 12 days off sick between April and the end of September, more than double any other department.
The vast majority of this was long-term sickness absence – and stress accounted for 41% of the absences compared to 22% in the preceding 12 months.
Adult services has frontline staff in care homes and domiciliary care teams, which help people with more complex needs remain at home.
The council also commissions external domiciliary care providers to support elderly people in the community.
Mrs Hawkins said stress management had been offered to staff, and that the authority was working with them to jointly produce a well-being and welfare strategy.
“I think solutions will lie with the teams,” she said.
Director of social services, Dave Howes, said removing the stressful nature of such a hands-on job was really difficult – and added that society should value the work of care staff more.
“It (the work) is inherently stressful – it is triply, quadruply so at the moment,” he said.
“Flexible working opportunities don’t really exist if you’re a frontline domiciliary care worker.
“You’ve got to be out there, with a smile on your face, dealing with circumstances that are really challenging.”
It was ridiculous, he said, that these were some of society’s lowest paid staff, doing one of the most “crucial, demanding, taxing jobs you can do”.
He went on: “And the way we appear to value that is to pay peanuts, really. Not in the council – we’re not too bad – but it’s not at the top of scale.
“If you go outside the council, it’s very different.
“That’s tricky. If you face all of that stuff and all of that anxiety, and juggling your home life, and you’re paid a pittance, we would think that adds to it (the stress).”
Mr Howes said “structural, systemic” change was needed, not just warm words and clapping once a week during the lockdown.
He said stress absences were not just work-related, but a blend of work and home life.
Throw into the mix, he said, the fact that care workers had to work late at night and early in the morning.
Cllr Clive Lloyd, cabinet member for adult social care and community health, reiterated his belief that care workers should be valued more.
“I don’t think the staff sickness levels are that surprising,” he said.