Care sector buckling under the pressure of 'dire' staffing crisis
'We're constantly asking people not to take their leave', says care boss Keri Llewellyn as social care sector faces staffing crisis
The social care sector is facing a "crisis" due to a huge lack of staff, care bosses have told ITV Wales.
Coronavirus is among a number of factors reducing the workforce - with pandemic pressures causing carers to leave the industry.
The managing director of a care company in Gwynedd said he is posting care worker job adverts on a daily basis, but is receiving no applications.
This month alone, a total of 760 care vacancies have been posted on jobs portals across Wales.
It comes as the number of older people living with severe dementia is predicted to double to 53,700 in the next 20 years.
Social care includes all forms of personal care and assistance for children and adults who required extra support, and can be provided in care homes or the home of the patient - known as domiciliary care.
The boss of a domiciliary care group in Barry said she is also struggling to recruit new workers - with the lowest number of staff on her books in 15 years.
Keri Llewellyn, managing director of All Care, said: "Staffing is dire. We haven't got enough people coming into the care industry and we've got people leaving in droves."
It means care providers are being forced to turn down work because they simply cannot staff it, but that work is someone who needs to be looked after.
So what's happened?
The staffing crisis is being caused by two main factors.
The social care system relies heavily on employing a workforce from EU countries, but many EU nationals returned to their countries of origin at the start of the coronavirus outbreak.
The GMB Union also said many did not apply for settled status when the UK left the EU.
Experienced care workers are also said to be calling it a day as a result of the pressures brought by the pandemic.
The burnout and stress of working conditions under Covid have forced many to look elsewhere for equally - and in some cases better - paid work that does not carry the same constraints as care work on their personal and social lives.
Amongst those still employed, there are high levels of sickness, staff having to isolate after being contacted by track and trace, and others taking annual leave.
However, Ms Llewellyn admitted she has been forced to ask employees to give up their holiday because she cannot cover them.
It's another bitter pill for care workers to swallow, as they watch their friends and family enjoy regained freedoms.
"A lot of us are struggling," said Wendy Harvey, a care worker for All Care.
"It's been very challenging, emotional, tiring - the last 18 months have been really hard for everyone, including [those we look after]."
Ms Llewellyn said morale is "really awful, really, really awful," adding "that's gone from the top right down to the bottom.
"We haven't got much hope on the horizon," she said.
She explained that this is due in part to the fact that life changed for everyone else as Wales moved into Alert Level Zero, but for those working in care it is still closer to Alert Level Three or Four.
Care workers are still tested at least twice a week, often three times, and in some cases every day as they arrive for work.
Care workers explain how their 'very challenging' situation hasn't improved as the pandemic has eased
The staffing crisis is also having ramifications beyond the sector.
If nursing homes and providers that offer care in private homes do not have enough staff, they cannot take on more clients for safety reasons.
It means those who need care must either wait for it to become available, or stay in hospital 'bed blocking' until there is space for them in a home.
Kevin Edwards, who runs Meddyg Care, which has homes in Porthmadog and Criccieth, warned that this could particularly become an issue in the winter.
"I think this has been building over the past couple of years," he said.
"What I'm hearing from within the sector is that service providers like ourselves will be looking to reduce the number of beds that are available because we haven't got the appropriate staff to cover them.
"That knock on effect will be individuals having to stay in hospital and I think there's going to be an awful lot of bed blocking in hospitals over this winter period."
What needs to be done?
Care providers and unions have called on the Welsh Government to make care work an attractive career prospect through better pay and terms and conditions.
They said the Welsh Government could increase the amount of money it provides local authorities for their social care budgets - which would affect both private and public care sectors.
They also added that there were around 120,000 vacancies in care before the pandemic, and Covid and Brexit have just exacerbated a preexisting problem.
The Welsh Government said it is working with unions, care representatives and local authorities to consider how it can improve working conditions.
It said it provided £50m of funding to local authorities to help support workforce and sustainable social services, and has also committed to ensuring social care workers get the Real Living Wage.