New emergency service in face of “unprecedented pressure” on Essex adult care sector

An emergency care service is set to be rolled out in Essex in the face of “unprecedented pressure” on the adult care sector in Essex.

Essex County Council has said the long-term trend towards care in the home has accelerated at a speed which has been hard for the market to absorb. At the same time, the impacts of the COVID pandemic are still being felt and wider economic factors are exacerbating matters.

As a result, Essex County Council is extending its Provider of Last Resort (POLR) service to ensure there is care and support available to call on when needed.

This service could be deployed to support care homes, other care settings and domiciliary care providers experiencing significant staff shortages as well as to support adults where care and support has not been sourced.

It is now set to commission shifts of care on a block basis from a maximum of three domiciliary care providers for the period between July 2022 upon expiry of the current POLR Service and April 2023 worth a maximum of £2.8m, for a maximum of 112,800 hours of cover based on 2,632 hours per week over 43 weeks.

It comes amidst continuing pressure on the health and social care systems across the care sector – including residential and nursing homes, home care and supported living settings – as a result of staff absences from COVID-19 infections.

Pressure on domiciliary care is particularly acute given difficulties in recruiting and retaining workers at the levels needed to meet the increased demand

Last year Essex County Council’s executive director for adult social care, Nick Presmeg, called for a unified workforce strategy between local authorities and the NHS to steady an “unsustainable” market by which care workers providing a vital service by caring for adults in their homes can earn more money “picking pears”.

Mr Presmeg said that the key to stabilising the care market is to bring together hospital, community and mental health trusts, GPs and other primary care services with local authorities and other care providers under an integrated care system.

The POLR service was put in place in January 2021, primarily as an emergency response during the second wave of Covid-19, to support care homes experiencing significant staff shortages resulting from staff isolation, which left care homes unable to safely care for their residents.

From April 2021, the POLR service has supported 13 care homes, four supported living settings, six domiciliary care providers and 225 adults for whom Essex County Council has been unable to secure care at home. Currently, 45 of those adults have been supported by the POLR service for more than four weeks.

Essex County Council says there continues to be pressure on staff resources across the care market as a result of staff absences through COVID illness as well as difficulties with workforce recruitment and retention.

A statement as part of decision papers to be signed off by Councillor John Spence, cabinet member for adult social care and health said: “This report requests approval to re-commission a Provider of Last Resort (POLR) service, as an emergency response, to ensure the council can meet its statutory duties to provide care and support to vulnerable adults when needed.

“This service could be deployed to support care homes, other care settings and domiciliary care providers experiencing significant staff shortages as well as to support adults where care and support has not been sourced.”

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter