Coronavirus response 'exposed fault lines' in adult social care system in North Yorkshire

The response to the coronavirus pandemic has “exposed fault lines” in the adult social care system and the lessons learnt during the last five months should be used to shape how we look after the elderly and vulnerable in our communities in the future, North Yorkshire’s director for health and adult services has said.

The coronavirus response 'exposed fault lines' in adult social care system in North Yorkshire, the authority's director for health and adult services has said

Since March, North Yorkshire has transformed its services, with staff working seven days a week and major changes that saw closer working between the NHS and social care to free up hospital beds and avoid new admissions - in an area where the ageing population means demand for services and demographic trends are five years ahead of the national average and occupancy rates for care services run at 95 per cent.

Speaking exclusively to the Yorkshire Post, Richard Webb, who has been at the forefront of adult social care in North Yorkshire for more than six years, said the pandemic had “magnified” long-standing issues in the system - particularly of funding social care, for which he said, a “long-term national direction” is needed, and a culture change that makes social care an industry in which people want to work and are recognised with appropriate pay and conditions.

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But he said, any future plans will coincide with a continued tackling of Covid, which he expects to be still dealing with in the next 12 to 18 months, amid a backdrop of economic challenges and the off-set of high levels of public spending.

“Although there has been progress on a vaccine, that will be some time off, and there may well be a second wave or a really severe winter,” he said. “As a community we are going to have to start responding differently.”

Questions will need to be asked, he said, about what was done during the “hot period” of the pandemic, but there is much to be learnt from how the NHS and social care worked more closely together, and more integrated working will be seen in the next five to 10 years.

But the shape of care as we know it will change in future.

Extra care schemes - a model North Yorkshire has embraced in the decade, where older people are supported to live in their own homes, with services like GP surgeries, libraries and respite care close by - are likely to increase, as will the role of technology in helping people to live independently.

Mr Webb said: “There has got to be a question about where is the right place to support, particularly older and disabled people, who might be very frail, and those who have been living in residential and nursing homes. Some places around the country are talking about whether people will be happy to move into 24 hour care in future, given how quickly the virus spread in some homes - would we want something different?

“Things we’d never thought of doing by WhatsApp or phone, will become more routine. “If you’re living in Leyburn and currently having to travel to James Cook Hospital or into Leeds for hospital treatment, maybe you can do your outpatient appointment by home or from your local GP.

“It’s the type of things we had said we’d never do that become more realistic.

In North Yorkshire, there will be a “redoubling of efforts” on prevention, on both mental health and physical health, and tackling the disproportionate way Covid has impacted BAME communities and those living amid deprivation and low income.

Mr Webb added: “The Government has talked about having multi party talks on the future of social care, and that’s welcome, but it’s not just about the cost of care, but also whether there is enough care out there and if it is good enough and of the right quality.”

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