Social care sector ‘buckling under pressure’ like NHS, Labour says

The Scottish Labour Party said Public Health Scotland data shows social care has been hit by the same staffing crisis currently affecting the NHS.

Social care sector ‘buckling under pressure’ like NHS, Labour says iStock
Earlier this week, the NHS reported its highest level of staff absences since April 2020.

Thousands of care home staff were off work in the last week due to Covid, according to Public Health Scotland figures.

The data, released by Scottish Labour, showed more than 2300 care home workers were unable to work due to the impact of the virus in the week ending January 11 – an absence rate of 6.2%.

The previous week, there was a 9.1% absence rate with 3222 care home staff members off for Covid-related reasons.

“We simply cannot allow our NHS and social care system to buckle under this pressure at this crucial moment, nor can we have those in need of care being put in danger,” said Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie.

She said the figures showed social care has been hit by the same staffing crisis currently affecting the NHS.

Earlier this week, the NHS reported its highest level of staff absences since April 2020.

Public Health Scotland data showed that in the week ending January 11, 7174 NHS staff reported as absent due to Covid, including more than 3500 nurses and midwives and 150 medical and dental staff.

According to the Scottish Social Services Council’s latest data on staff vacancies, one in three (36%) social care services had at least one vacancy at December 31 2020, which is more than three times the figure across all types of employers.

Service types reporting the highest levels of vacancies were housing support, (60%) care at home (59%), care homes for older people (55%) and care homes for adults (48%).

East Ayrshire (47% of services), Edinburgh (47% of services) and Renfrewshire (44% of services) had the highest proportion of services with vacancies of all local authority areas.

The most recent NHS workforce data showed there were 5761 nursing and midwifery vacancies by September 2021 in Scotland.

Scottish Labour said the crisis is the result of “years of SNP underfunding and under-resourcing of the NHS and social care workforce at a time with record vacancies in both sectors”.

Commenting on the figures, Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie said: “The facts speak for themselves – staff absences have pushed our NHS and social care system to breaking point.

“The pandemic has shone a light on the years of mismanagement, underfunding and undervaluing that these vital workforces have suffered under the SNP.

“Years of SNP cuts are now leading to lives being put at risk across our health system and staff being worked to exhaustion.

“It’s high time that the cabinet secretary woke up to the crisis unfolding in front of him and acted to get the situation under control.”

Health secretary Humza Yousaf said data shows infections and associated staff absences due to the coronavirus could peak by mid-January, and by treating more people at home with anti-virals, there will be more capacity in hospitals.

“As you can imagine, I look at the data every single day and we meet with local government health and social care partnerships and indeed care home providers on a very regular basis,” he told STV News.

“There’s no getting away from it, the pandemic is the biggest crisis to hit, not just the NHS, but also the social care sector.

“The high attack rate of Omicron has meant we’ve been dealing with staff absences that have significantly affected that sector.”

He pointed to the Scottish Government’s £62m sum used to specifically enhance care at home services, adding: “All of this builds on work already underway as part of our £300m investment in health and care services as part of winter preparations.”

On high vacancy levels, Yousaf said the government has introduced a new scheme where new staff joining the social care workforce will have entry costs paid by the Scottish Government until the end of March.

He added: “We will continue to work closely with our partners to identify all possible ways we can assist the sector to aid recruitment and retention within the workforce – which has been essential to our pandemic response – at this critical time.

“We are in daily contact with every board and monitoring the situation closely and local contingency plans are in place to focus on the redeployment of available clinical and support services staff to essential services.”