Sunday 23 June 2024
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‘No silver bullet’ to solving social care staff shortages at Nottinghamshire County Council, director warns

Apprenticeships and more partnerships with universities could be needed to plug Nottinghamshire County Council’s ongoing staff shortage in adult social care.

This is according to a leading service director who has warned there is no “silver bullet” to solving recruitment issues in the sector.

The authority’s adult social care and public health committee met on Monday (December 13) to review the department’s ongoing financial situation, which shows a £2.31 million underspend in its budget.

The “main driver” of this, councillors were told, is unspent staffing costs due to difficulties in filling a raft of vacancies.

Earlier this year, the committee approved the creation of 55.5 temporary full-time equivalent (FTE) social care posts as part of its recovery plan.

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It was hoped at the time these posts would address the impact of “delayed and new demand due to Covid-19”, including creating roles like social workers, occupational therapists and community care officers.

However, council documents state the recruitment process has been “challenging”, with the authority only managing to fill 21 out of the 55.5 vacancies.

A separate recruitment drive, also aiming to employ a further 55.5 FTE posts, has managed to fill 13 posts.

Documents add the social care workforce shortage is being felt across the sector, with local authorities and independent agencies all struggling to fill gaps in their staffing.

But the council is now looking into ways to plug these holes, including strengthening its long-term planning to ensure it has “people coming through the pipeline”.

Kashif Ahmed, service director for integrated strategic commissioning and service improvement, told the committee work is ongoing to tackle the shortage – including building partnerships with universities.

He says the numbers recruited in the current drive are “pretty good” given the context of a national staff shortage, but warned there is not a hard and fast solution to the issue.

“Unfortunately, there isn’t a silver bullet or a magic one to solve the workforce shortage,” he said.

“It is really challenging across the board, in particular around qualified staff, social workers, occupational therapists and community care officers.

“It’s going to require a long-term, strategic plan around workforce and we are looking at apprenticeships and having more conversations and partnerships with universities.

“The reality is we’d need to see a much greater increase of people coming through the pipeline because the demand currently is so high.

“We need to increase all mechanisms we’ve got around recruitment. It is really challenging, we are exhausting all our other options.”

The shortages come at a time when healthcare services in Nottinghamshire are facing “unprecedented demand”, with council documents stating many systems are declaring either ‘Opel 3’ or ‘Opel 4’ – the highest level of risk.

It follows the emergence of the Omicron Covid variant in what many expect to be one of the most challenging winters for health and social care services.

Melanie Brooks, corporate director of adult social care, also told councillors the department is in “emergency crisis response” and is this week further suspending “business as usual” in order to provide “critical services” only.

Commenting in the committee, councillors raised concerns over social care staff shortages and the impact moving forwards.

Cllr Paul Henshaw (Lab), who represents Mansfield West, said: “If we don’t do something, this problem will be continually exacerbated and it seems to me it’s only going to get worse.

“[We need to] facilitate making working for Nottinghamshire County Council more attractive so we can mitigate this issue.”

Cllr Chris Barnfather (Con), who represents Newstead, added: “It’s always going to be difficult to recruit staff for social care when you can go to Amazon and be paid considerably more per hour stacking shelves, than for looking after more vulnerable members of society.

“I’m not sure that’s something we’re capable in this chamber of being able to resolve, it is just an issue.”

In response to concerns raised, Mr Ahmed told councillors the department has “imminent actions” it will take including looking into volunteering and redeploying staff who are not currently working “on the frontline”.

“This will support some of the short-term challenges we have got at the moment,” he added.

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