Staff shortages due to the impact of the Covid-19 omicron variant have prompted North Yorkshire’s county council chiefs to ask its planning, highways and back office staff to help with critical care work.
North Yorkshire’s partner agencies which form the North Yorkshire Local Resilience Forum (NYLRF) – the county and district councils, the NHS and emergency responders agencies – say they involved in surge planning as omicron disrupts services with increasing numbers of the workforce infected.
North Yorkshire County Council’s health and adult services has stepped up emergency planning to manage significantly reduced staffing levels across critical care services and the wider care sector.
Staff have been reorganised into different roles, taken on different duties and worked extra hours over the holiday period and into the New Year.
However, the council is now calling on its wider workforce in non-critical services across highways, planning, and back-office jobs to volunteer to step into social care roles should they be needed to help keep people safe and well as omicron continues to spread and reduce staffing levels further.
Richard Flinton, who chairs NYLRF, said: “We believe putting our workforce on an emergency footing in this way is vital to ensuring our partners in the NHS can function, enabling patients to be discharged from hospital into care settings as needed and freeing up beds for people waiting to be admitted.
“These emergency plans will only be used if needed but will hopefully provide sufficient volunteers to get us through the Omicron wave which may see as much as a 40% reduction in available care staff due to illness or self-isolation.
“Staff would be deployed in such circumstances on a range of different duties supporting care delivery in our elderly person’s homes and extra care settings to free up care colleagues to deliver direct care.
“So we are looking for colleagues to help with roles such as cooking, cleaning, helping people eat and drink and social activities/interaction, including helping people stay in touch with families virtually or answering telephone calls.”
The council says it is providing training and support as needed and will match new duties to normal working patterns.
The planning comes as officials say the number of people coming forward to get vaccinated, including a booster jab, have now dipped despite the omicron spike and increasing hospitalisations.
Cases have been surging across the region since the turn of the year and there are currently more than 2,400 people with Covid-19 in Yorkshire and North East hospitals – the most since last February.
However, officials say many of those who are needing hospital treatment because of Covid-19 have not been vaccinated or have not had their Covid-19 booster.
Health and care leaders say booster vaccines remain the best line of defence against serious illness caused by coronavirus.
There are approximately 90,000 people in North Yorkshire and York who currently meet the eligibility criteria for a booster jab but have not yet received the top-up vaccine.
Amanda Bloor, accountable officer for the NHS North Yorkshire Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “There are lots of walk-in and booked appointments now available for booster vaccinations as we go into 2022.
“I would encourage everyone to take up the offer and make arrangements as they become eligible.”
Louise Wallace, North Yorkshire’s director of public health said that the rate per 100,000 of the population for North Yorkshire (1623) and York (1698) was fast approaching the England average (1769).
She said: “These rates are unprecedented, higher than any since the start of the pandemic. But there is much we can do to protect each other.
“The priority is for all eligible people to get boosted and vaccinated and also to follow essential public health guidance as we head into the difficult winter months – wear face masks when required; keep rooms ventilated and open to fresh air when meeting indoors, wash hands regularly and take a test when you go out to meet people.
“We need to pull together on this and each and every one of us can play our part. Please act now to protect yourselves, your loved ones and the county’s businesses and public services.”
Amanda Bloor added: “If you’re one of those people who were initially hesitant about getting vaccinated against COVID-19 but have since changed your mind, it’s not too late to come forward. The vaccination remains available to everyone 12 and over and I would encourage those who have not yet received a vaccination to take up the offer to protect themselves and others.
“Boosters are available to people aged 18 and over and 16 and 17-year-olds who are at high risk from COVID-19, together with frontline health and care workers, three months on from their second vaccine dose.
“We’ve seen extremely high take-up across all parts of North Yorkshire and York and even over the festive period, people came forward in their thousands for their booster or third vaccine dose.
“We are hugely grateful to our NHS and pharmacy colleagues and the scores of volunteers who gave up their time over the holiday period, as well as the thousands who came forward for their vaccination.
“The booster programme in our area continues to be a huge success story, with 68 per cent of the population aged 12 and over in North Yorkshire (almost 400,000 people) and 58.4 per cent of the population aged 12 and over in York (more than 114,000) now triple-jabbed – among the highest rates in the country.”
“Government data shows Hambleton is at the very top of the England leader board with 73.7 per cent of those aged 12 and over receiving their booster or third dose.
“We now need each and every eligible person to come forward. The vaccination remains the best way to protect ourselves, and those we love, against serious illness and hospitalisation so that we can continue to enjoy the freedoms we are currently experiencing and reduce pressure on our NHS.”