CARE homes across Bournemouth, Poole and Christchurch remain under pressure because of Covid – with seven closed, or closing, and 76 care contracts being handed back to the council.

A report to Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole councillors warned that there was little hope of any improvement in the sector until at least the spring.

And morale remains at a low, with staff reporting exhaustion and others planning to leave.

The 150-registered homes in the council area provide care to more than 4,700 people although recent closures, or those planning to close, will result in the loss of 174 beds.

Read more: Bed-blocking patients in Bournemouth and Poole hospitals reaches 150

Director of operations for the council Betty Butlin said the council itself was also under pressure with 25 vacancies for adult social workers and occupational therapists at a time when the authority was under pressure from the NHS to get medically fit patients out of local hospitals.

Said a report to the health and adult social care overview and scrutiny committee, said: “It has become increasingly challenging to identify sufficient care resource to meet the escalating demand for hospital discharge support.

"Care agencies have been required to manage a range of infection control measures as a result of the pandemic, which has included staff vaccination, and have experienced difficulty recruiting and retaining staff.

Read more: Omicron wave sparks fears over Dorset's adult social care

"The continued challenge for care agencies to recruit new staff when competing against the local hospitality, manufacturing, and retail sectors, as well as absences caused by COVID-19 infection, would suggest a low level of confidence that workforce pressures will improve before the spring of 2022."

The report also warns that having to provide extra support for those being discharged from hospital has come at a cost of £590,000 extra mainly in domiciliary care support while the additional cost of making care homes placements available associated with the pandemic, including urgent hospital discharges, is projected to be £892,000 for 2021/22.

Earlier this month, we reported how a 'double whammy’ of pressure, caused by the pandemic and the Omicron variant, is creating ‘real problems’ for the entire health and social care system.

Read more: 'Residents paying for care home place before they need it'

One of the most critical concerns related to bed blocking which saw more than 200 medically fit patients unable to leave Bournemouth and Poole hospitals, overseen by the University Hospitals Dorset Trust.

The crisis-hit adult social care system struggled to provide the staff needed to deliver ongoing occupational support once a patient leaves hospital.

Interim director for adult social care commissioning Elizabeth Saunders said that despite the council offering what support it could, including passing on Government grants, staff morale in the care sector remained low with many reporting that they were exhausted and some planning to leave.

She said the council had supported three recruitment campaigns for the local care sector in the past year although interest during the last attempt seemed to have partially dried up.

The director said the authority also offered support to care staff with a range of incentives, including free car parking in difficult areas, free childcare during school holidays for those who qualified and free bike hire – along with the Proud to Care awards in association with the Echo.

“We are doing our best to keep morale up and to show that they are being recognised and we support them,” she said.