Vulnerable residents face cuts to their homecare packages across NHS Lothian in the coming weeks as health bosses blame staff shortages and the Covid pandemic.
East Lothian Health and Social Care Partnership’s (ELHSCP) head of operations apologised to people as he confirmed that “short-term measures” including reductions and withdrawal of some care at home services would be brought in to cope with increasing pressure on services across the Lothians.
The move sparked concern from local politicians over the impact on the most vulnerable members of society as winter approaches, and there were warnings that any Lothian-wide cutbacks should not be a “one size fits all” approach.
It is understood health chiefs in Edinburgh, East Lothian, Midlothian and West Lothian health and social care partnerships have all carried out reviews of the care they normally provide to people at home to look at ways to ensure “essential care” continues.
A spokesperson for ELHSCP said: “In a picture replicated across the country, social care services and providers in East Lothian are experiencing rising demand for services and significant staffing pressures caused by higher-than-normal sickness levels and staff who are self-isolating, coupled with difficulties in recruiting to social care roles.
“ELHSCP carried out individual risk assessments and reviewed the care normally provided to people in their own homes to establish ways of continuing to provide safe and essential care to those who need it most while the system is experiencing pressure.”
East Lothian councillor Stuart Currie, SNP group leader, said he was concerned that the county did not act “lock step” with neighbouring local authorities as Edinburgh, West Lothian and Midlothian health bosses are expected to make similar announcements.
He said: “I have already had concerns expressed to me about letters going to vulnerable people in East Lothian describing a one size fits all approach.
“I expect everyone to be treated as an individual and their circumstances looked at before care services are withdrawn.”
Ian Gorman, East Lothian Health and Social Care Partnership’s head of operations, apologised for the cuts, which are expected to be seen in a matter of weeks.
He said: “This is an unprecedented situation and we apologise to all of the patients and families affected.
“Many people will already be aware of the pressures facing health and social care services across Scotland.
“It means that we simply are unable to provide some of the care that we would normally.
“If services are to be affected or reduced during a home visit or a member of staff cannot visit, they will contact people and their families in advance.”
Councillor Lachlan Bruce, leader of the Conservative opposition group at East Lothian Council, said: “Those working in social care have been outstanding during the pandemic and everyone owes them a debt of gratitude.
“Obviously this isn’t a welcome announcement and no one wants to see this happen.
“The most important thing now is that everyone who needs supports gets it and we get services back to normal as soon as possible. That this is happening before winter has even kicked in properly is very worrying.
“In the long-term this just highlights the very real issues within the sector around workforce planning and for action from the Scottish Government to get more people working in the social care sector.”
Paul McLennan, East Lothian MSP, said it was clear action needed to be taken to address the lack of care workers across the Lothians.
He said: “This is a national recruitment crisis which was ongoing before the pandemic but has been made worse by it and the impact of Brexit and loss of workers.
“We need to see an action plan in place to recruit more care workers and improve wages and benefits for them.”
East Lothian MP Kenny MacAskill described the situation as “very worrying”.
He said: “The service has already been reduced and what was on offer before was barely adequate.
“These are vulnerable people and with winter coming care is even more needed.
“Politics is about priorities and it is time these people were prioritised, not left isolated.
“For sure there are staffing pressures, but the solution is to reward the workforce with pay that’s appropriate not cut the service to those in need.”
By local democracy reporter Marie Sharp