Firefighters on standby to plug gaps in care services left by staff shortages, warns Northampton General Hospital CEO
"We need to attract workers with proper remuneration for the caring, sensitive and challenging work they do... government must to act now and provide financial help"
Northampton General Hospital bosses are poised to call in firefighters on standby to visit fall victims instead of care workers to plug gaps left by staff shortages.
In a hard-hitting statement the hospital's CEO appealed for urgent government funding to improve wages and prevent a log-jam in hospital beds this winter.
Heidi Smoult said: “Care worker shortages are already resulting in delays to patient discharges in our hospitals.
"This is of extreme concern because experience tells us that the situation will only worsen in the coming winter months."
Unions have already warned the severe shortage of staff in care homes will get even worse next month when up to 750 care workers in West Northamptonshire who are not fully vaccinated are disqualified by new government regulations.
Health secretary Sajid Javid recently claimed others would simply be recruited to take their places. But Ms Smoult warns that even if that happens, it will not be enough
In a joint statement issued with West Northamptonshire Council CEO, Anna Earnshaw, Ms Smoult added: "We need to attract workers with competitive salaries and offer proper remuneration for the caring, sensitive and challenging work they do and as our ageing population grows.
"We are calling for central government to act now and provide financial help to bridge the gap in care worker shortages in our county.
"When we don't have enough care workers to put care packages in place for people who need support at home after leaving hospital it leads to delays. That means patients have to stay there longer than necessary.
"This can often slow down patient recovery and lead to more care being needed longer term. That’s not what we want for residents and we know people want to stay in their own homes and stay independent for as long as possible.
"Care worker staff shortages also ultimately impact on patients waiting longer in A&E, as well as planned hospital care because without enough patient beds available in hospitals, operations and procedures may need to be delayed.
“In order for residents to transfer from hospital beds back to their homes and community without delay we are calling for immediate and sustained funding from central government to enable us to recruit and bolster the care workforce."
Mr Javid last week announced a £162.5million retention and recruitment fund to support care home and home care providers.
The cash, which is available until the end of March 2022, will support the recruitment of staff and help retain existing workers through providing overtime payments and staff banks of people ready to work in social care.
But Ms Smoult, a former midwife who spent seven years as an inspector at care homes regulator the Care Quality Commission before joining NGH in August, added: "The funding announced on Thursday was very welcome but it is not a long-term solution and it doesn’t address the core issues of attracting and keeping a valued workforce who will keep the most vulnerable safe.
"Overtime and bank staff are already measures being used by councils everywhere and are not filling the gap.
"The funding will stop in March 2022 but the need and the demand won’t."
Doctors are warning of a huge surge in demand for hospital beds this winter with fears of a Covid-19 and flu 'twindemic'.
Mrs Smoult added: “We are committed to working together, as partners to help create a better solution and to provide improved experience for patients, families and our staff.
"In the meantime, to address the shortfall in community care workers we are working closely with families, the voluntary sector and other services, such as the fire service who we hope may be in a position to visit someone at home if they need a safety check or have had a fall.
"We will always put the safety of patients first and we will as always do what it takes to make sure that people who need care get it and ideally in their own homes."