New strategy maps out gaps in Suffolk care system to aid Covid recovery
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Council chiefs have published a plan to address gaps in care for Suffolk - and help the industry bounce back from the Covid-19 pandemic.
Suffolk County Council's cabinet signed off its care market sustainability strategy on Tuesday afternoon which aims to address the key problems facing the industry over the next three years.
Among those issues highlighted are funding and cash flow solutions for providers, recruitment and retention of care workers, upping the number of care places available, and addressing gaps in specialist support.
The strategy's proposals include developing longer term contracts to provide financial sustainability for care providers; invest in specialist placements - particularly for the over 85s, those with dementia, those with learning disabilities and more placements in the Waveney area where a shortfall has been identified - and develop digital care measures.
The council's report said that at least 1,000 care placements are already needed, and that number is set to increase in the future.
Recruitment and retention of carers has also been an issue. Around 12,500 people are employed in the sector in Suffolk, but pay and competition from the retail and hospitality sector for workers has caused problems.
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Conservative cabinet member for adult social care, Beccy Hopfensperger, said that the strategy will be mindful of needs exposed by the Covid-19 pandemic - such as the appetite for people to keep family members at home rather than in care homes - and was about "working with providers, not telling them how to run their businesses".
"This strategy has been a long time coming, and if it were not for Covid we would probably have signed this off one year ago," she said.
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"However, we and our partners in the care sector needed to focus on our Covid response.
"This delay also means our strategy forms a framework for recovery within the care sector - this will be vital as the care sector has been hit hard by Covid and will not recover quickly."
She added: "We believe the strategy will help us map out the path to a sustainable sector and high quality care economy in Suffolk."
Care is also a major part of the county's economy as well as its health needs, with the council working with more than 400 providers and spending nearly £300million on care each year. At least 10,000 people in the county require care at any one time, the report said.
An implementation plan will now be drawn up which will target how measures will be introduced.
However, the opposition Labour group said there were no concrete solutions on some measures and also questioned where funding will come from.
Helen Armitage, Labour group spokeswoman for health, said: "The hard truth the Conservatives at Suffolk County Council are trying to run away from is far too many care workers are living below the breadline.
“Boris Johnson has continuously dithered and delayed over reforming funding for the care sector, and at a local level, the Conservatives refuse to pay care workers the Real Living Wage of £9.50 an hour.
“Suffolk County Council purchases care at too cheap a price which means that providers cannot afford to pay all of their staff a decent wage. This new strategy might deliver better training and 'raise the status of care', but that will not solve the recruitment and retention crisis when wages remain so low."
Inga Lockington from the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent group called for the strategy to address the issues Long Covid will have on care, and ensure the strategy was flexible enough to move with changing demands.