Security guards support emergency response service after staff absences

Millions of pounds has been added to the cost of paying for care in Norfolk. Pic:: Peter Byrne/PA Wi

HEARS is a 24-hour monitoring service covering Ipswich to ensure the elderly can get help for illness or falls - Credit: PA

A council-run emergency response service has had to deploy security guards to accompany staff on house calls due to staff absences, it has been confirmed. 

Concerns were raised to parish councillor Steven Wells by a relative whose loved one had called for emergency responders from the borough council's Home Emergency Alarm Response Service (HEARS).

The service user was visited by a responder and a security guard, who was wearing a bodycam. 

Ipswich Borough Council has confirmed that security staff from Stage, which is also owned by the council, were occasionally used by HEARS "if necessary due to staff absence". 

This happened on seven shifts in November and December 2021, when many other organisations were experiencing staff shortages due to coronavirus and isolation rules. 

A spokesman for Ipswich Borough Council added: "It's important to always have a full HEARS service to protect both our customers and the emergency services. The elderly can rely on us and also don't need to unnecessarily use or wait for ambulances. 

"Staff used from Stage are all first aid and manual handling trained and hold Security Industry Authority (SIA) licences and which includes backgrounds checks.  

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"They are there primarily to ensure HEARS staff do not work alone - staff get called out at all times. Stage staff can help with using lifting equipment but only under the HEARS responder supervision. 

"We are proud of the uninterrupted service we provide all over Ipswich with HEARS. We have not received any complaints from customers, or their relatives, who have been visited by a responder with someone from Stage." 

Cllr Wells, who is parish councillor for Whitton Rural, said security guards were not the type of attendees users would "expect, deserve or pay for" and questioned why the council was not using care agency staff. 

Mr Wells called it "care on the cheap". 

He said: "With the greatest of respect to the security staff they have not gone through the same training as HEARS staff and appear to not even get paid as much as the HEARS staff. 

"That's before we even consider the personal intrusion that having security bodycams can lead to. 

"I am not at all surprised I was contacted by a concerned relative."

In response, the council spokesman said "staff attending customers through our HEARS service are not carers".

The spokesman continued: "Responders are quite different from carers - they will do things like lift someone from a fall on the ground (and for which they are trained) and contact relatives but this is not the day-to-day looking after someone that is the work of carers.

"It would cost more to use carers and also there is a high demand for care staff and for a role where there's no need for carers, it would be wrong to create competition with other organisations. 

"It is understood by customers that HEARS is a response service, not a care service."