Chorus of concern over care workers

Councillors at Comhairle nan Eilean Siar’s Communities and Housing Committee raised a chorus of concerns over continuing issues with the recruitment and retention of home care staff at the committee’s meeting this week, and called for a report on the matter, due at next week’s meeting of the Comhairle’s Policy and Resources (P&R) committee to contain specific and costed recommendations for improvements in the pay and working conditions of the staff.

By Peter Urpeth
Thursday, 2nd December 2021, 2:21 pm

In the committee meeting, Nick Fayers, chief officer of the local Integration Joint Board, which oversees planning and delivery of care services, confirmed that there was currently more than 600 hours of unmet care need locally, care not being proved for those who have been assessed as needing care services but which, Mr Fayers said, “we are not currently able to meet”.

Mr Fayers stated that the service needed to recruit a further 46 staff members, and also confirmed an issue with bed-blocking has now arisen with 20 individuals currently unable to leave hospital due to a lack of home care services.

He said that they had in the last six months managed to recruit 20 new staff members to 38 posts advertised in the service, and also confirmed that the Scottish Government had provided additional one-off funding to support interim care arrangements for those unable to leave hospital due to a lack of community care.

Mr Fayers stated that the service was not seeing a “significant deterioration” in terms of the numbers of staff leaving, and said that the issue of pay and conditions for home care staff would be discussed at next week’s Policy and Resources committee meeting.

Leader of the Comhairle, Cllr Roddie Mackay, said: “Next week we are going to outline the system we are going to set up to try and improve pay and conditions [of care staff], there is going to be a small working group to try and address short-term fixes and then long-term issues.

“...There are systemic issues around the working conditions and the organisational conditions that will have to come through this committee too, eventually, but certainly in terms of the short-term fix, in terms of us trying to find a way in which remuneration can be enhanced and the working conditions made a bit more palatable quickly, it is an urgent issue. We can’t dilly dally on this, we do have to act on this and that is why we are forming a group, and we hope to meet this week to try and work a way forward.”

Cllr Maclean replied: “I heard this week that some staff were leaving to go to work at Tesco because the work conditions are better in Tesco and the wages are better in Tesco than they are in home care. That should not be, and I have been on about this for four years.

“When we depart next May”, Cllr Maclean added, “I have the horrendous feeling that we will not have moved hardly an inch on this, and we haven’t moved an inch on this in the last four years, I have to be honest. But I hope that we will move some way on it.“

Cllr Norrie MacDonald stated: “We need to care for our carers...I want to see proposals for improvements in their pay and conditions coming from within the service not coming from councillors…if any of us [councillors] were to propose just now that we wanted to see x, y and z put in their [care staff] terms and conditions you would get 31 councillors voting to do it now. It should be the other way around.

Cllr Maclean added: “One of the reasons we are losing our care staff is because we have devalued them, when in fact we should be valuing them, and that is why I am looking forward to the recommendations in the meeting next week, and hopefully we’ll see that they are doing exceptional work and we should commend them and help them as much as we can.”

Chair of the Committee, Cllr Kenny John Macleod responded: “I don’t think within this chamber that we undervalue them, and finding that way to address the real, legitimate concerns that have been raised is challenging, but I think are making progress in that regard.”

Cllr Norrie MacDonald replied: “My fear is that next week we will end up with a twenty page report, brilliantly written in council-speak that will absolutely tell us all of the reasons why we can’t do anything significant to address the issues with our carers.

“They’ll be a twenty page report that we will mull over and wonder how it took so much effort to come to the conclusion that very little can be done.

“I’d rather see a paragraph that tells us how we can pay our staff £1 an hour more, give them 90p a mile, which they used to get for their mileage, and that can deliver time and a half and double time for weekend and overtime shifts – three lines, straightforward, and how we are going to pay for it.”

Cllr Kenny John Macleod concluded: “I am aware that progress is being made with regard to the enhancements and allowances, that is where there is maximum flexibility for us to work, and that is the area that is being looked at, and actively being looked at the moment.

“I am aware that is being looked at at the moment and whether that comes back next week as a final proposal I don’t know. I haven’t seen the report and we will wait for that.”