Many more domiciliary care staff are back at work in Swansea and fewer care homes are at risk of needing emergency support, the council’s social services director said.
Dave Howes said decreasing rates of coronavirus infection and transmission in the community have started to have a positive impact on health and care services over the past fortnight.
He said around half of Swansea’s domiciliary care workforce had been off for a while. The absence rate now, he said, was down to 20%.
“That’s still a high figure, but nevertheless that’s a massive increase in resource available to us,” said Mr Howes.
He added that in recent times eight care homes in Swansea and Neath Port Talbot might be at risk of needing emergency support one week, and another eight homes the next.
“Now it’s an ever-decreasing list,” said Mr Howes. “The picture is improving.”
Speaking at a social services scrutiny meeting, Mr Howes also said community services in Swansea as a whole has been de-escalated in the last two weeks from the highest “red” risk level to amber.
“That is a real milestone to have stepped down that level of concern,” he said. “But it does not mean that we will become less busy.”
Despite a more upbeat assessment than of late, Mr Howes said the care home sector remained very uncertain in Wales because occupancy levels were low due, sadly, to deaths and also a reluctance among elderly people to go into care homes at this time.
Mr Howes said the sector was being “enormously propped up” by Welsh Government funding “to avoid the sector just collapsing”.
He said he expected this funding to continue in 2021-22 but in a different way because it “almost perversely incentivises” care homes not to take in new clients.
Mr Howes said this had consequences for local authorities, because they would have to provide support for elderly people to live at home if the shift away from care homes became a longer-lasting trend.
Swansea’s social services department, which includes children’s services and poverty protection, is in line to receive £124.2 million as part of the council’s 2021-22 budget, which is £4 million more than the current financial year.
Mr Howes said he was really pleased with this sum and that it had met “all the asks we have made from an officer perspective”. The budget will be set in early March.
Scrutiny panel chairman Cllr Paxton Hood-Williams said the panel was pleased to see the proposed £4 million increase and little in the way of cuts.
He said he would like more detail on how social services generated income, and how reliant it was on Government grants which could be “turned off and on”.
He also asked Mr Howes to again pass on the panel’s thanks to care staff for their work during the pandemic.
Mr Howes said social services in Swansea would continue to focus on three priorities: delivering the best model of adult social care, reducing the number of looked-after children, and tackling poverty.
Cllr Elliott King, cabinet member for children services, said the council wanted to maximise the use of local foster carers, but that finding placements for children remained a key challenge.
“I know that has been replicated across Wales,” he said.
Care Forum Wales, which represents health and social care providers, said some care homes would have to close if emergency Welsh Government funding ended on March 31.
The group’s chief executive, Mary Wimbury, said the sector was fragile before the pandemic.
She said costs had gone up for things like extra staffing and infection control measures while more empty beds meant less income.
Ms Wimbury said: “If average occupancy drops to 85 per cent or even below the whole of the infrastructure of social care in Wales is under genuine threat.
“Occupancy levels at many care homes has dropped to 50 per cent or less and that’s just totally unsustainable.”
A Welsh Government spokeswoman said it had provided an extra £88 million in 2020-21 to support the under-pressure care sector. She said councils could access this money to support providers in addressing specific pressures.
She added: “We are in the process of finalising the budget for next year.”