Looking back to December 2020, we all remember being placed in lockdown to help bring the spread of COVID-19 under control and ease some of the pressure on our health and social care providers.
Now it’s December 2021, and we’re facing the Omicron variant and more restrictions on our everyday lives – but this time we have the additional challenge of serious staff shortages in health and social care. Various factors including pay, shifts, illness, wellbeing, burnout, family commitments and the impact of Brexit, mean that we are seeing a significant shortfall in the numbers of staff needed. We are relying heavily on agency cover, the cost of which has increased significantly and is pushing already tight budgets to breaking point.
Due to these staff shortages, it is proving be difficult to continue operating some care homes and homecare. This adds further pressure to our colleagues in our local hospital trusts, as medically fit people with no care placements must remain in hospital beds. To put this into context, North Bristol NHS Trust currently has one quarter of all its beds occupied by medically fit people.
The images of ambulances queuing at A&E are distressing and so, taking inspiration from the One City response to the pandemic 21 months ago, on Monday 13 December 30 key staff from across health, social care and other sectors in the city, came together. Representatives ranged from care homes to NHS hospital trusts, and from Clinical Commissioning Groups to Bristol City Council Adult Social Care. They were joined by other key city partners including First Bus, TUC, VOSCUR, Business West and City of Bristol College. Karin Smyth, MP for Bristol South and Shadow Minister for Health and Social Care, also joined the discussion.
Over two hours, we discussed the barriers we are currently facing and mapped out ideas we can take now to ease the pressure, as well as building towards a longer-term strategy. Discussions and ideas ranged from starting a city-wide campaign to celebrate our care workers to working with City of Bristol College to produce a programme of training and development to better retain staff. Other ideas highlighted using everyday buildings as community hubs and providing additional incentives from Bristol businesses for those working in social care. New connections were made for more effective collaboration across sectors with the voluntary sector providing essential insight into how local communities could get more involved.
We’ve made some good progress already to help ease the pressures in health and social care. We will continue working together as One City until we have solutions to help support our front-line workers and residents in need of care. No one should have to stay in hospital a night longer than they must and as One City we will do our best to ensure this.