FAMILIES who have acted as carers during the pandemic have reached crisis point as social distancing has led to lines of support being cut and testing rules have left them struggling to get their loved ones placed in care homes, a meeting has heard.

At its first meeting since lockdown, North Yorkshire County Council’s care scrutiny committee heard that relatives who were providing care in the homes were becoming increasingly desperate and six months after restrictions were introduced health and social care services in the county were seeing a sharp rise in serious mental health cases.

In May, the Institute of Fiscal Studies forecast if the recession following the economic effects of the virus was similar to 2008, about half a million more people would experience a mental health difficulty over the next year.

It also predicted if there was a second wave of Covid-19 and the economy was damaged further, the effects on mental health would be greater still, and last much longer.

Last month, the NHS Confederation, which represents health and care leaders, said mental services required “intensive support and investment” in order to continue to be able to help those who needed it.

The care scrutiny meeting was told it was the duration of the pandemic more than anything else that was impacting on the mental health of carers and their loved ones.

Councillor Caroline Goodrick said: “People who have been supporting relatives at home during the crisis have found it incredibly difficult to maintain that support without some help and that help has been limited in what we can give them.

“Some families are now reaching that crisis point, where the relative has to go into care. The biggest problem I have come across in getting a relative into care during this period is that residential homes are asking for a Covid test.

“For a test you don’t qualify on the government website and you don’t qualify on the test and trace 119 number. You can’t get your relative, who is now in a desperate need of care into care without a test.

“My experience is that it is really difficult to do that and the relative concerned just took hers to a test site without an appointment and was fortunate enough to get a test, but that seems somewhat extreme.”

The authority’s corporate director of health and adult services Richard Webb said support such as day care, in which both the individual and their carers were given a break, had been suspended because it was difficult to provide in a socially distanced way. He said the council had paid care providers to keep in touch remotely with carers and their relatives and had tried to continue respite care, where possible.

Mr Webb said: “We know that’s becoming difficult for people. We are seeing people who have held on and held on. Some people who are frightened of coming into either hospital or care during the Covid period as they thought they might catch Covid and they are now presenting to us. We are also seeing quite a sharp rise in people presenting with serious mental health issues because the duration of this is impacting on their mental health.”

He said people struggling to get a Covid test to enter care homes was “an intermittent issue”. He added: “The issue that is entirely out of our control is that ability to get the quick test results. I wish we could solve that, but we don’t control the lab capacity. We are trying to be very mindful of people who are providing support for loved ones at home and trying to help family carers. Because they weren’t in regulated services they were getting missed out on PPE and other support.”

He said he wrote to care providers in Scarborough, Selby and Harrogate districts last week asking them to restrict visitors, due to rising infection levels in the community, but the authority was mindful of the impact of such measures on mental health.

He said: “It’s a really difficult balance. From people’s mental health and wellbeing people want to have lots of visits and good care providers are doing that in a very Covid secure way. What we can’t guarantee is out of 235 providers everyone is doing it in the most secure way.

“On the other hand we have got to protect people from the transmission of Covid, so it’s a really finely balanced issue. I’ve been very struck by a younger disabled man who lives in a care home saying to me ‘how come everyone else can go to the pub and I can’t see my friends and family like I’d like to?’.”