THE director of social services in Carmarthenshire said the department “came to the edge” as he reflected on the pandemic year.
Jake Morgan told a meeting of the council’s executive board that it had been the most difficult period of his career.
He cited the example of a privately-run care home which was at immediate risk of closure on Christmas Eve due to the coronavirus.
Council staff stepped in at the eleventh hour and prevented sick and elderly patients having to be transferred to a new setting in the middle of the night.
“We came to the edge,” said Mr Morgan. “When push came to shove, it was local Government who stepped up and really delivered.”
It was revealed earlier this year that the management team and most of the staff at Glyn Nest residential home, Newcastle Emlyn, had tested positive for Covid-19 and that there wasn’t sufficient capacity to cover the evening of Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.
Mr Morgan’s written report spelled out the deep uncertainty at the start of the pandemic.
“It is easy to forget the emergency in March and April last year when public health advice felt short of to acknowledging the need for PPE (personal protective equipment) in the care sector; when there was rapid discharge from hospital into nursing homes wholly unprepared to manage Covid-19 outbreaks and where basic protective equipment for staff at risk was nationally auctioned to the highest bidder by unscrupulous distributors,” it said.
“At this time vaccination programmes were a distant hope and our care staff faced anxiety daily.”
Mr Morgan’s report said his team met seven days a week for six months, and that social services staff were owed “a huge debt of gratitude”. The workforce was, though, “fatigued”.
The report said demand across children and adult services was volatile and that there has been a steep rise in demand for domiciliary care since March.
It added that the impact on mental health services was likely to be significant.
The authority has recruited an additional 25 in-house domiciliary care staff, with retention packages offered.
During 2020-21 social services department received 277 compliments, many more than the previous 12 months. There were 34 complaints.
The impact of Covid on care homes is an ongoing concern, and Mr Morgan said the wider funding of social care and the increasing demands associated with an ageing population remained as challenges.
Speaking at the meeting, Cllr Jane Tremlett, executive board member for social care and health, said it was a very positive report and a “timely morale booster for staff”.
She and Cllr Glynog Davies, who has the education and children services portfolio, commended staff for their efforts.
Council leader Emlyn Dole described it as “an extraordinary and heroic effort”.
But Cllr Davies said he was concerned about how the council could keep track on the rising number of young people who were being home-educated – a process which was evident before the Covid crisis.
“The Welsh Government have failed to legislate appropriately in order for us to monitor the progress of these children, and that’s essential,” said Cllr Davies.
“We need to know how these children are progressing. Currently we are restricted.”
Two council committees have scrutinised Mr Morgan’s report, and have requested from the Welsh Government a review of the issues experienced in care homes. A letter is also being sent to Minister for Education Jeremy Miles in relation to home schooling.