Comhairle Convenor, Councillor Norman A MacDonald, has called for pay increases for care staff to address the recruitment crisis in the sector locally.
Speaking during a meeting of the Integration Joint Board (IJB) which provides health and social care services in the Western Isles, Cllr MacDonald highlighted the issue of low wages paid in the sector and how, he claimed, current rates of pay ‘don’t give people a sense of esteem.’
Cllr MacDonald, who also called for the IJB to use surpluses in its budget created by the large numbers of vacant posts in the services, to fund a pay increase, concluded: “There is a real risk of us not being able to deliver services we need in our community, and we now need to focus on finding the solution.”
Chair of the IJB, Councillor Kenny John MacLeod, responded to the call stating that the reasons why people were not attracted to work in the care sector were complex, and warned: “Balances in surpluses can only be used as a one-off. If we were to get back to full employment in the service we wouldn’t have the underspends.”
Dr Ron Culley, Chief Officer of the IJB, stated that the IJB did not have the flexibility to vary staff wages as these were set out in national staff pay scales and agreements, and called for the development of policies that provided housing to care staff as part of their package of employment.
The meeting heard that currently there are only 40 women – the most usual applicants for care work posts – unemployed in the Western Isles, whilst there were up to 150 vacancies locally.
Another issue for concern to the meeting was the number of staff aged over-60 working in the sector locally – and that issue extends to the bank of relief staff that currently has up to 30 per-cent of its staff aged over 60, with two staff aged over 70 regularly working shifts.
Figures given to the meeting confirmed that staff sickness levels were increased for staff aged over 55, and two local hospital wards are operating with 70 per-cent of staff aged over 50.
Dr Ron Culley confirmed that agency staff from the mainland had recently been used for the first time to cover home care staff shortages.
Cllr MacDonald added: “We have to focus on population decline and try to retain as many young people, those who are currently going through our schools, as we can.
“We’ve been talking about this for ten years and done hee-haw about it, that’s the problem.”