The increasing number of care workers self-isolating is potentially more of a danger to vulnerable people in Wales than the Covid-19 virus, a social care leader has warned.
According to Keri Llewellyn, the vice chair of Care Forum Wales, they were getting reports of care homes and domiciliary care companies where 40 per cent of the staff were at having to quarantine at home.
As a result, a growing number of providers were struggling to give the required level of care – and the situation was only going to get worse with Covid cases skyrocketing.
Social services departments were being affected by the same problem which meant that there were no staff reinforcements from there available.
Although, thankfully, the number of people falling seriously ill and needing hospital treatment was falling, Care Forum Wales was concerned that some care home residents and people receiving care in their own homes could be at risk.
They were by definition in fragile health and often needed a high level of care.
The situation was already having a knock-on impact on the NHS because the reduced capacity of domiciliary care companies and care homes was making it increasingly difficult to discharge hospital patients back into the community.
The Welsh Government has announced that from August 7 fully-vaccinated people will not need to self-isolate if they come in close contact with someone who has tested positive.
Care Forum Wales say they are looking forward to discussing with the Welsh Government what this means for social care and any additional measures for staff working in health and care settings.
Ms Llewellyn, who is also managing director of home care provider All-Care which works across South Wales, said: “I’m up to 40 per cent of staff not working at any given time at the moment, which is huge.
“Clearly, we’re in the third wave and the infection rate is rising but it’s not got the same feel because it’s not as bad and the hospitals are not as affected, but capacity has gone right through the floor.
“We can’t carry on providing the same service to everyone in the community while we’ve got that many staff off.
“They can’t get people out of hospital clearly, so there’s already a backlog to free up hospitals because they can’t move them on to having care because nobody has the capacity.
“We’re facing a perfect storm. As well as the increasing number of people self-isolating.
“Over the past year or so child care has often been provided by partners on furlough but with people back in work that’s not an option either.”
The concern was echoed by Care Forum Wales chief executive Mary Wimbury who said:“Everybody is seeing increased pressure.
“Even though at the height of the pandemic things were very much worse in terms of severe illness, because we are opening up many more people are putting themselves in situations where they’re potentially being exposed to Covid and they’re having to self-isolate.
“As a result the number of people self-isolating is also on a steep upward curve.
“Schools are now open and we know lots of infections are coming through them which means that parents have to self-isolate.
“Even if the child is a contact and not actually infected it can still take some of the workforce out because of child care issues.
“As part of the easing of restrictions, the Welsh Government have said that people who are fully vaccinated will not need to self-isolate if they are a close contact of someone who has tested positive from August 7 onwards.
“The vast majority of social care staff are fully vaccinated as are the people receiving care.
“We’ve got some positive data on vaccinated people reducing transmission but if you’re caring for vulnerable people the risk is still there, even though it’s reduced.
“According to Professor David John Spiegelhalter, an eminent expert on understanding risk, a vaccinated 80 year old has the same risk as an unvaccinated 50 year old, so the risk has not gone away.
“We will be discussing with the Welsh Government the arrangements they have suggested will need to be in place for those in the care sector who would previously have been required to self-isolate after being in contact with somebody who has Covid.”
“Caution should still be the watchword in Wales but we have also got to be in a position where we can deliver services.
“We are very concerned providers we are going to reach a point where vulnerable people are at risk because there are not enough staff to care for them.
“I think that’s the biggest risk currently for the sector. You can’t function without people to provide care and that potentially is a bigger danger than the virus currently.
“There were staffing issues in social care before the pandemic struck and this is having a massive knock on effect. It’s making things really difficult.
“There needs to be some serious number crunching and working out how to balance all these different pressures to determine the best possible solution.”