'Crisis has made us rethink priorities'

Devon County Council is calling for more care workers

Care workers are in demand - Credit: Contributed

April 2020 was the serious start of the crisis; much has changed since then, which has confused our sense of normality. But many things have still not changed, though they should have changed years earlier! 

Problems with pay and recruitment in the care industry and in the NHS were apparent long before Coronavirus, and are still blighting us, not least because it takes time to train for many of these positions.

Some sectors have had a big boost with new opportunities. The job market and economy are doing surprisingly well, though there is a huge problem with the cost of energy. This should set us thinking what has happened since the crisis started 22 months ago.

All those over 70 in the food bank, including me, had to retire. Younger colleagues and a wonderful new group of volunteers picked up the challenge seamlessly, guided by Ian and Shirley from the old team.

The initial problem was keeping everyone fed, including those 'shielding', who were not allowed out. 

The foodbank delivered to anyone, regardless of circumstances, which made a huge change in operations on top of the surge in demand. 

Delivery services from stores and supermarkets were overwhelmed and failing; stores could not cope with the demand from people hoarding. 
Fortunately the Food Bank had plenty in reserve after previous years of Exmouth generosity, both cash and tins, though mostly soup and beans.

Quantity purchases in supermarkets were not allowed; the supply situation was saved by deals struck in Exeter by the Salvation Army. Many will remember the toilet roll crisis; catalogues hanging on a nail by the privy - or the car was left out because the garage was full of toilet tissue!

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The Open Door Centre and Glenorchy Work Club had to close at first, limiting support to needy people, but are now open again. There was a big recruitment surge in the retail industry to provide deliveries, which many still rely on.

Brexit was blamed for the lack of staff in care homes which had been using cheap labour from Eastern Europe. Poor pay had not attracted British people, unless motivated by the job satisfaction of caring for others. 

The NHS and care sector are still short of trained nurses, doctors and care staff.

Now, the Glenorchy Work Club is open again on Thursdays; the Open Door Café is open for those needing support; the Food Bank never stopped, and is now working the same as before, open for callers Tuesdays and Fridays with deliveries when necessary.

There has been a big push to support "hospitality", but my "local", the Beacon Vaults, closed in 2017. Hotels have been hit hard, but self-catering accommodation has surged, with more bookings 'out of season'. Hotels have had to adjust before; most Exmouth hotels rely on coach tours now. Adjust and adapt seems the order of the day for all of us.

Holiday travel is in crisis. As a small boy, I remember train travel to a holiday on the Isle of Wight, after tank traps had been cleared from the beaches! The huge expansion in the holiday industry and air travel is now reversed, which will help limit global warming. Flight attendants with basic first aid training would fit ideally into community care, but there is a monumental difference in the pay.

We have valued air travel so very much more than caring for the disabled and the elderly.

The pandemic provokes us to adjust, adapt and rethink our priorities.