Fife Council chief executive Steve Grimmond has expressed cautious optimism that the worst of the pandemic’s effect on services has passed.

Yet serious concern remains about the impact on health and social care, as it emerged more than a third of Fife’s 75 care homes had to be temporarily closed for a day or more this week as a direct consequence of COVID.  

Like all local authorities, the region has been hit hard in recent months by staff shortages and the financial impact of dealing with the virus, with the latest estimates suggesting the cost to the Kingdom will be around £38 million this year alone. 

But while case numbers remain comparatively high, Mr Grimmond has been able to report an improving picture to councillors at the council’s policy and co-ordination committee.

Just over 400 members of staff were off as a consequence of COVID on Wednesday, around 2.2 per cent of the total workforce, but that figure is said to be around 15 per cent down on the previous week. 

“The situation with service delivery remains precarious and we’ll continue to oversee that,” he stressed.

“That said, we are more optimistic that we now have passed the peak and while the impact will continue, particularly across health and social care, for some weeks to come we would hope to begin to restore business as usual as we move forward.

“Fife continues to have very high levels of COVID Omicron infection although, as is the case now across Scotland and indeed the UK, we appear to be beyond the peak and are now beginning to see a reduction.

“Staff continue to work from home where possible, although there is now some optimism that we’re into February we may be able to move to some more flexible arrangements and hybrid working.

“Notwithstanding that there’s substantial numbers of frontline staff providing and maintaining services across the Kingdom.

“Absence levels continue to be a significant challenge and all service managers are having to actively manage service delivery and prioritise workload and maintain frontline service delivery.

“But it’s encouraging to say that the level of absence has reduced from levels a week ago with something like a 15 per cent decrease over the course of the last week.

“So again, there’s a modest optimism that we’re probably past the peak and we continue to improve on our absenteeism.”

The ongoing impact on health and social care services remains a worry, as Mr Grimmond revealed that 27 of the region’s 75 care homes had to be temporarily shut for a day or more earlier this week as a result of COVID.

And he added: “The number of people being discharged with appropriate care arrangements from hospital has increased, but it’s not increasing at a level that’s enough to release the pressure.”

However, Mr Grimmond noted that the isolation period for care home residents had been reduced from 14 to 10 days which should help patient flow, while a call has also gone out to council staff who may be able to temporarily help care services.

A cohort of around 30 employees has been identified who are willing to provide immediate support where required.

Elsewhere, Mr Grimmond confirmed that schools had been able to maintain in-person teaching and, although staffing in other areas had been “very tight”, only localised disruption in terms of refuse collection and leisure provision had been experienced.

The contact centre is also under “significant pressure”, he added, noting that there had been a marked increase in the number of self-isolation grant applications received.

However, crisis grants are continuing to be processed as a priority and the situation is expected to ease as the weeks wear on. 

Further updates are expected to be reported to councillors over the coming weeks.