The UK’s ongoing floods crisis has put social services around the country on high alert as they battle the elements to keep providing care and support to those in need.
The priority for many has been to identify vulnerable individuals who need urgent help.
“When the floods first hit our initial response was to make sure we were getting information from the care providers about anybody they were providing support to,” says Helen Wakeling, operations director for adult social care at Somerset County Council.
“That gave us a real clear picture of people who they were only getting to by using 4x4s and so might be at risk in future of not being able to deliver a service to and also people they weren’t able to get to and how long that situation would be sustainable for.”
The council also had social workers join the emergency services and district council housing teams as they went door-to-door in flood-hit areas to find out who needed help.
At the same time the council checked whether any residential homes or other care services had been flooded. “Fortunately in the areas that have flooded in Somerset at the moment, we don’t have residential homes so we haven’t had to deal with that,” says Wakeling.
“But we have been mindful that there are people employed in residential and care settings who live in those areas and have to come and go, so we’ve been monitoring that to ensure it is not impacting on services.”
This initial burst of information gathering resulted in the creation of risk log of individuals who may need alternative accommodation or further monitoring of their situation.
“We’ve currently got a system going here in the county council that we are monitoring 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for any concerns people are raising and the care providers are continuing to feed that information into us.”
Emergency residential care
The external care providers, says Wakeling, have been “fantastic”: “We’ve had emails in terms of ‘we have vacancies and we are happy to take people day or night’, so there has been an incredibly positive response across the board.”
One residential care provider that has been helping out flood victims is Anchor, which has been providing emergency accommodation for older people evacuated from homes in Surrey.
Eric and Monica Souster, aged 94 and 82 respectively, are two the care provider has helped. When the River Thames burst its banks and flooded the couple’s Weybridge home last Wednesday, Anchor’s West Hall care home stepped up and gave them a place to stay that same day.
“The devastation across Surrey is shocking and we are pleased to be able to offer a safe haven for older people who need care at this difficult time,” says Sarah Carpenter, general manager at West Hall. “It’s so nice to see that Eric and Monica have settled in so quickly after moving in under such traumatic circumstances.”
At the moment it isn’t clear how long the Sousters will stay at West Hall, but Monica’s sister Anne Wilson says she is “relieved that Eric and Monica are safe and are being well looked after”.
Home care goes the extra mile
For those who haven’t had to leave their homes but have been cut off to some extent, home care providers have also been going the extra mile. Or seven.
In West Sussex, home carers from Caremark who cover the rural Pulborough area near the River Arun have been facing hour-long traffic jams, lengthy diversions, power cuts and flooded roads to reach their clients.
Some staff such as Margaret Jasinska have been particularly dedicated says Bethany Shepheard, the care co-ordinator at Caremark (Pulborough).
“Margaret has done an amazing job with the flooding,” she says. “She has gone out of her way to get to clients when roads have been closed. On a couple of days she was unable to get back to her house due to the flooding so she stayed at a friend’s house to make sure that she was able to get to all her calls the next day.”
Caremark’s Slough and south Buckinghamshire office has also faced difficult conditions.
“We have had some really difficult days of late,” says care manager Suki Dhillon. “Some of our clients live in Datchet and Wraysbury which for the main part are seriously affected by the floods. I had to evacuate two of our clients recently and get them to safety with the assistance of the fire brigade.
“Meanwhile, our care workers have been and continue to be absolutely fantastic, working under very difficult conditions. Some of them are having to travel across two big motorways and drive miles out of their way just to find an accessible route to their clients.”
Extra shifts and toy librarys
Somerset County Council’s social workers have also been putting in the hours.
“I’m very proud of the work our team has been doing,” says Wakeling. “We’ve had staff at the risk centre that has been running for people who’ve been evacuated and they’ve done some fantastic work, supporting people to find alternative accommodation.
“The response from the social care team and care providers has been incredible – they have been really positive, volunteering for rotas and really putting in a lot of thoughtful support for people.”
The council’s social workers have also been offering emotional support. “It is incredibly difficult for people to have to leave their home at really short notice and we’ve been working with people in those situations,” she says.
“The weekend before last we also helped to set up a toy library for the kids of the families that have been evacuated, and also ensured the children were appropriately supervised while parents when back to reclaim things from properties. We’ve also been supporting things like finding temporary homes for people’s pets.”
Inevitably the floods have required a temporary shift in priorities for the county’s social care services.
“We have realigned our priorities to make it clear to people where the priority for the service is at the moment because obviously we are having to provide this support and that means we might not be able to respond as quickly to some of the other areas of our work,” says Wakeling. “This isn’t affecting our urgent work like hospital discharges and safeguarding but the timescales for reviews might slip for a little while.”
After the floods
While Somerset’s experience with heavy snow in recent years meant that it had appropriate plans to deal with the floods in place, the persistence the flooding has been unexpected.
“What’s very unusual here is the length of time it has and will be going on for,” she says. “So that’s something we’re regularly reviewing because it’s about our own resilience as well as the resilience of the people of Somerset. We’re very mindful of making sure that people get the breaks they need and are not being asked to cover shifts when they’ve been working a lot anyway.”
The council is also beginning to plan ahead for the ongoing response once the water subsides.
“I would imagine that would have to run for quite a period of time,” she says. “People may have moved out of adapted property and may now be housed somewhere that isn’t as suitable, so we will be working closely with occupational therapy to make sure they get the equipment and support they need.”