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Should ‘we rip the private sector out of care?’: Torfaen councillors discuss ‘care crisis’ in Gwent

A Torfaen councillor today suggested that councils in Wales could take more control over running care services in-house and ‘rip’ them off the private sector.

Councillors at today’s Council meeting were given a copy of the Maret Stability Report for Gwent. Jason O’Brien, Torfaen Council’s chief officer, social sare and housing, said this document had to be produced every three years to look at the ‘stability’ of services the council procures such as care homes and home support.

It looks at current demand and projected demand for these statutory services. He said the report highlighted two ‘dominant’ challenges. 1) the availability of domiciliary care and 2) the ongoing demand for children in ‘looked after placements’.

Another challenge is recruiting and keeping staff to work in the care sector. The report says that the domiciliary care market in Gwent is in ‘crisis, with the main issue being insufficient staffing levels to meet demand due to poor staff recruitment and retention. Work undertaken on a regional basis with health and social care providers has found that health and social care staff are leaving the sector at an unprecedented rate due to poor pay, terms and conditions, and cost of employment (such as driving and registration.)

‘This has led to significant numbers of unallocated care packages across the region. As of data collected on 4th July 2022, Local Authorities in Gwent reported 3643.40 hours of domiciliary care remain unallocated, with 360 people awaiting packages of care’.

Councillor Karl Gauden, Llanfrechfa & Ponthir Ward, said: “There is an existential crisis in care and the wages that are paid are at the bottom end of the scale. These care jobs are at the bottom of the scale.” He said some workers aren’t paid travel time between visits.

“Should we be looking on a borough or a Wales-basis to rip the private sector out of care because profit is being made on the back of our vulnerable residents and I wonder whether there is a new way of delivering? I haven’t got a silver bullet but I think as a borough and a nation we need to look at alternatives because this existential crisis is only going to get worse and we can’t let down our vulnerable residents.”

Mr O’Brien said that at the council’s scrutiny committee one of the recent recommendations was to look at how the council could have a “greater share” of the domiciliary care market.

Councillor David Daniels, Pontnewydd Ward and executive member for adult services and housing, said today: “I’m not particularly ideological. After 11 years of being on council and the entirety of it being austerity, I’m growing pragmatic about things but on this, I can’t see a sustainable way forward personally other than ultimately getting care out of the private sector.”

In October Cllr Daniels suggested a ‘radical rethink’ was needed over how care was provided in Wales.

He added: “It’s a very difficult conversation because how we do that is very complicated. I think on a local level it’s probably beyond our means to do that on our own. I think this is possibly a regional opportunity and certainly more of a Wales-wide opportunity.

“I know a national social care service has been discussed at various points and that is something I would advocate strongly for because we are all competing as boroughs and regions for the same workforce.”

He said the situation meant that care providers were competing with each other for staff and private sectors jobs in areas such as retail: “Whilst a care job is paying about the same or less than in retail it is absolutely nonsensical for us to expect people to take that financial hit. It’s an incredibly taxing job. You are tasked with giving the dignity and well-being of people with incredibly complex situations. It’s a skilled job and it should pay as a skilled job.”

He said the trend of more people wanting to say at home would mean that domiciliary care would become more “complex” and this would have the knock-on effect of residents with “incredibly complex” needs going into care homes and this would make care more expensive.

Councillors approved the report as a ‘reflection’ of the current situation in Torfaen and across Gwent.

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Should ‘we rip the private sector out of care?’: Torfaen councillors discuss ‘care crisis’ in Gwent

a carer support an elderly person