MORE THAN HALF the councils in England are resorting to exceptional measures to ration care and support in a worsening national emergency for social care, a survey has found.

Despite a record increase in the hours of homecare being delivered to people with support needs, councils say they are unable to keep up with the numbers requiring care as the Omicron variant of Covid forces growing numbers of staff to take sick leave or isolate.

More than one in two directors of social services who responded say that in at least some cases they are having to take decisions temporarily to limit the care normally provided, leave people without their usual social contact, or ask families to step in to help.

Stephen Chandler, president of  the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) said: “We warned before Christmas that we were heading into a national emergency for social care. The sobering reality of that is now becoming starkly clear.

“Every council is taking extraordinary steps and a majority say they are having to prioritise the most basic and essential care in at least some areas for some of the time.

A previous survey by ADASS suggested that councils had increased the amount of homecare being provided by a phenomenal 15 per cent in just three months last year. But more than 400,000 people were waiting for assessment or review of their care needs or for packages of support to be provided.

Winter, the Omicron wave and pay rises in other sectors has worsened that picture. On top of more than 100,000 vacancies for care staff, agencies that employ them say that an average 14 per cent of their team members are off sick or isolating.

A new survey by ADASS, responded to by 94 of the 152 English councils responsible for social services, has found that 49 councils are taking at least one exceptional measure to prioritise care and assess risk for at least some of their area for some of the time. These are measures that are regarded as least acceptable.They include prioritising life sustaining care such as supporting someone to eat, and remain hydrated over supporting someone to get out of bed or complete other activities; being unable to undertake reviews of risk at all or to rely for this on the view of providers, family carers or people using services themselves; and leaving people with dementia, learning disabilities or poor mental health isolated or alone for longer periods than usual.

Stephen Chandler said: “These are decisions that no-one wants to take, and many are unacceptable. They are drastic measures and must not become, the norm.

“The roots of this lie in the failure to fund adult social care sustainably over the past decade and to recognise and reward properly the committed, courageous and compassionate people who work in it.

“Opportunities were repeatedly missed to ensure that adult social care would be robust enough to withstand the challenges posed by Omicron. Any money that has been forthcoming, though welcome, has been too little, too late.”

ADASS is calling for recognition by government that the pandemic has disproportionately affected people who need adult social care, and family carers, and has widened existing inequalities.

It wants a commitment to sustainable funding of at least £7 billion extra a year, rising to £9 billion by 2024-25, and a social care minimum wage equal to that paid by the NHS for similar work.

In the first instance, it is calling for a larger share for social care from the new Health and Social Care Levy due to be added to national insurance payments from April.

* Read the ADASS Winter Contingencies Survey here.

* Source: Association of Directors of Adult Social Services