AN army of interns could be recruited to help tackle the Capital’s care crisis, the city’s health chief has revealed.
Labour’s Ricky Henderson said students on relevant courses could be deployed as part of an extra £4m investment if the cash is signed off at Thursday’s budget meeting.
But he said money alone will never solve the crisis – while the Tories backed internships and the Greens urged for any such roles to be properly paid.
“We have to look at how we carry on delivering those services because it’s not working at the moment,” Cllr Henderson told the Evening News in an exclusive interview.
“We can’t think we can magically allocate funding and the problem is solved – it’s a much more ingrained problem than that.”
Cllr Henderson said interns would be just one way of trying to recruit and keep care workers – including paying existing staff more.
“We need to use a bit more imagination on different ways for service provision, rather than putting all of our eggs in one basket,” said Cllr Henderson.
“The companies do a good job and the workers do a great job but there’s not enough of them. There’s not enough people coming into the care sector and staying in the care sector.”
If agreed by councillors, the £4m additional cash would mean savings being made in other services while NHS Lothian bosses will be asked to match the pledge – making £8m extra in total.
Cllr Henderson welcomed the “room for manoeuvre” to free-up the cash as care has been earmarked a priority area for the authority.
“This will very much go to care at home – carers going into people’s homes to support people living as independently as possible,” said Cllr Henderson.
“Our contractual providers have difficulty meeting demand. They have difficulty recruiting and maintaining staff – competitive pay is likely to be one for them.”
Better working conditions including sick pay and training for staff working for outsourcing firms are also essential to help keep carers, said Cllr Henderson.
“An increase in the living wage means for people in hospitality and retail, their pay rates have improved slightly compared to the care sector,” he added.
One of the top priorities is to reduce the number of elderly kept in hospital because no home care package is available – currently standing at around 170 a month.
“People are ending up in hospital who don’t need to be there,” said Cllr Henderson. “If we can get them out quickly enough for a normal life, still as independent as possible, that’s the holy grail.”
But for some of those with more advanced dementia, a new £10m council-run care home will be built.
“Sometimes care homes are not able to take in people in advanced stages of dementia. Someone with advanced stages sitting at home simply cannot be looked after – they need to be in a residential setting.”
Another top target is the 1,700 elderly in the community currently waiting for a care assessment.
Writing in today’s paper, Cllr Henderson labels the current care package from the Scottish Government, the “lowest since devolution”.
He added: “There’s been pressure for a number of years and we continue to feel that pressure to make cuts.
“It’s tough for the frontline people working in services. There’s increased demand from all these demographic pressures.
“We need to find ways of keeping the argument for more resources and we’ll keep making that argument. In the meantime, we need to get on tackling it with the money allocated.”
Throwing extra cash at the problem will never “in itself” solve the crisis, said Cllr Henderson, while he “suspects there will remain challenges for some years to come.”
There were also issues to be addressed in numbers of GPs, mental health provision and help for those with learning difficulties, he added.
The Greens, meanwhile, have come up with plans for a one-off extra pot of £500,000, on top of the additional £4m, from an emergency fund. This money would be used to better develop plans for patients to decide their own care package, paid for and approved by the council.
The Greens’ Melanie Main said: “The priority has to be to create Health and Social Care services fit for the 21st century.
“But real change is always challenging, so Greens have put an additional one-off £500,000 into Green budget to lead that change – making it easy for families to have a real say and choice over the care they receive.”
Of using interns to deliver care, Cllr Main added: “There is a shortage of care staff now but there is also a shortage of training placements for courses.
“Universities and care providers need to work together, making sure internships are properly funded and supervised to give students the confidence that the caring profession is the right one for them.”
Tory shadow health secretary Miles Briggs welcomed the use of interns as one of “all possible options” to resolve the care crisis.
“The Scottish Government should be looking at all possible options, including new and innovative schemes, to encourage more people to work in social care and tackle the very serious recruitment crisis in the sector that is having such a massive impact on local services,” said Mr Briggs.
“A social care internship programme merits consideration and could be a good opportunity to give students studying relevant courses practical experience in the field.
“I hope the Scottish Government will agree to explore such a scheme with both colleges, universities and social care providers.”
Mr Briggs also expressed concerns that the Scottish Government-led drive to recruit child carers may deter people from working with the elderly.
“While investment in extra childcare is welcome, the Scottish Government’s announcement of a high profile campaign to recruit up to 11,000 people to work in childcare has left some care providers extremely concerned that school and college leavers who want to work in a caring role and who may have been considering careers in adult and elderly social care will now choose instead to work in childcare,” said Mr Briggs.
“The Scottish Government needs to address these concerns without delay and make social care an attractive career option for young people.”