Edinburgh old folk warned: 'Shortage of care staff may mean you have to rely on your family'

People who receive care in their own homes have been sent a letter by Edinburgh health bosses warning they may have to rely on family and friends for support because of a shortage of care staff.

Wednesday, 27th October 2021, 4:45 pm
Updated Wednesday, 27th October 2021, 6:11 pm
Helen Neilson, 91, faced being left with no care, unable to wash or feed herself

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The letter highlights the combined problems of high Covid rates, care staff switching careers and Brexit reducing the number of EU care workers, meaning "the social care sector is stretched to capacity or beyond on an almost daily basis".

It refers to the "challenging" experience of the pandemic and says: "We may have to ask some of the people who have helped you previously, if they are able and willing to do so again, to help us provide some degree of care and support once again".

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Judith Proctor - chief officer of the Edinburgh Health and Social Care Partnership

At a meeting of the Edinburgh Integration Joint Board, responsible for health and social care in the Capital, carers’ representative Ruth Hendery said her elderly parents had both received the letter.

She said: "While I appreciate all the demands that are coming on officers and the frontline staff, at the receiving end I found that letter very, very difficult.

"I wouldn't have dreamt of reading that out to my parents. I don't think they'd have understood it."

She said the core message was: "You've had a tough time and we're back into an even tougher time, when let's hope you've got family, friends, people around you that can do the work, because you ain't going to be getting it from Edinburgh health and social care partnership."

"No wonder folk are anxious," said Ms Hendery.

She said her parents had received "amazing support" from frontline staff.

But she said: "I really hope there are communities and people out there who can step up because this just feels like everything is falling apart."

Judith Proctor, chief officer at Edinburgh Health and Social Care Partnership (EHSCP) told the meeting they were concentrating on increasing capacity.

Some care providers had lost as much as 30 per cent of their staff.

"We anticipate this winter to be unlike anything we have experienced before."

But she defended the letter sent to service users.

"It felt very important we were honest with people – people were anxious anyway because we were having to see a change in the provision of care.

"It feels really important we were honest with people in Edinburgh about our circumstances and we're up front about that. I'm very sorry that's distressing for people but I know people were distressed because of the challenges we were facing."

She was backed up by Tom Cowan, head of operations, who had been involved in drafting the letter.

He said: "I think it would have been irresponsible and unprofessional had we not told people the truth – and if that means telling the truth in relatively blunt language I think it's the only honest thing we could have done.

“To give people the impression that somehow yes it's quite difficult, but maybe it'll be OK and don't say it won't be OK – I will not be any part of that kind of level of dishonesty, That's why we did what we did.

“It wasn't intended to shock but the facts are shocking. There was no way of hiding from that. This is an incredibly difficult period. I have seen lots of hyperbole around how difficult things are over the years. I'm genuinely worried we are not going to be able to get through the year with a sustainable level of support for those who most need it.”

And staff rep Kirsten Hey echoed the sentiment. She said she had worked for council for more than 20 years. “We've had tough times before and we've chaos-ed our way through them, but this year is something else.

“Emails went out on Friday to locality staff – occupational therapists, social workers and community care assistants – saying there’s a lot of home care work we can’t cover this weekend, would people be willing to come in and do it? That’s never happened before.

“This letter must have been incredibly upsetting to get but, as frontline workers, staff really really feel that level of honesty is absolutely required because the public and the families of the people we care for have to know what's going on.

“Staff are working so hard and the best support the board and the management team can give to the frontline staff is to be honest with people we're working with because Unrealistic expectations make everyone's life more difficult.”

Earlier this month, the Evening News told how 91-year-old Helen Neilson faced being left without care in her East Craigs home, unable to feed or wash herself, after the care company contracted to provide two carers four times a day said they were pulling out. Her daughter, who lives in Morayshire, was repeatedly told no alternative provision was available, but at the last minute an arrangement was made to ensure Mrs Neilson received care.

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