A RAPID response team of care and health workers has supported struggling care homes in Swansea Bay on a daily basis since it was set up, a social services director has said.
Dave Howes said the team was started from scratch in December because the authorities were so worried that some care homes in Swansea and Neath Port Talbot could fail due to a rising number of staff self-isolating or contracting the coronavirus.
Mr Howes, Swansea Council’s director of social services, said the team had been due to operate until the end of the January but that this has been extended by a month.
He said: “We got to three weeks out from Christmas, absolutely thinking there was a real risk that one, two, three, four, five care homes might all fall over.”
The team, he said, had been used continuously in some capacity since.
“We’ve had days where four or five homes have been in real difficulties,” he said. “We’ve always managed to respond, and everyone knows who to contact.”
Mr Howes said the reduction in community transmission of Covid since the latest lockdown in Wales and the rollout of the vaccine were welcome, but that the consequences of the pre-Christmas infection surge were still working their way through the health and social care system.
Addressing a council scrutiny panel, he said: “We are far from being out of the woods.
“It’s absolutely extraordinary that we have been able to keep things going.
“January has been the hardest month that we have experienced to date.”
He added: “It’s an extremely challenging position, yet – touch wood- there haven’t been any critical failures.”
Mr Howes and Cllr Clive Lloyd, cabinet member for adult social care, paid tribute to staff for their efforts since last March.
They had been working “beyond 100%, frankly” for a long period of time, said Mr Howes.
He and Cllr Lloyd also thanked unpaid carers and relatives of elderly people whose domiciliary care provision had reduced for stepping in so that care staff could focus on those with the most pressing needs.
Mr Howes said social services were providing a “Covid response” at present which, despite the achievements staff, was “far from ideal” in the longer term.
Asked how daycare services had been affected, Mr Howes said around 120 people out of the 600 who normally accessed the service were being helped this week. He hoped this would rise to around 150 shortly.
Cllr Lloyd said that around eight care homes in the two counties remained in a high-risk category and that despite the positive transmission and vaccine news, his discussions with Mr Howes last week “were as bad as at any time during the pandemic”.
In the seven days up to January 22, there were 134 confirmed cases per 100,000 population in Swansea and 187 in Neath Port Talbot. Although these numbers were considerably lower than in recent weeks, Swansea went into a local lockdown in the autumn on reaching 50 cases per 100,000.
Mr Howes said there was sufficient vaccine supply “as things stand” for Swansea and Neath Port Talbot to inoculate the top four priority groups, which include frontline health and social care staff, by mid-February as planned. This programme is being delivered by Swansea Bay University Health Board.
Councillors on the panel had contacted Mr Howes before the meeting with questions, and they were keen to relay their thanks to the staff.
Cllr Susan Jones said: “I’m sure we are going to have a need for far more support for staff in the future, and I think maybe that should be put on our work programme.”