CARE needs in Dorset have changed as a result of the pandemic.

Fewer elderly people are now being admitted to residential care homes with more being looked after at home.

It has been predicted that the county is now likely to need fewer beds in care homes, although there has been a corresponding increase in the demand for visiting care workers.

A meeting of the audit and governance committee heard that prior to the pandemic there had been a decrease in demand for care home beds by about 6% per year but that trend had since accelerated.

At one point, in the summer, there were around 500 vacant care home beds across the county.

The pandemic has also seen the majority of day care centres closed with staff offering services in a different way.

Councillors heard that the situation has also led to an increase in loneliness with a near doubling of reported mental health problems – partially offset by a rise in community volunteering with family, friends and neighbours stepping in to offer help and support.

Councillors at a meeting this week heard that the changes had resulted in a transformation in the way in which Dorset Council delivers services to older people and in the way in which they work with the largely privately run, care sector. A new Home First programme was started this month to support people returning home from hospital.

Head of adult commissioning Tony Meadows that new ways of working were being implemented due to the pandemic.

He said: “It has been a significant step change in the way we are working .. transforming work around the community, rather than concentrating on the hospital venue, which can really have some benefit.”

He said that the pandemic had brought about new ways of working in both adult social care and in hospitals which gave both services the opportunity to offer services in different ways into the future.