INCREASING demand levels and staffing issues in health and social care around the Wee County are causing challenges, a report to council has revealed.

Between April and October in 2019, 17 staff left Clackmannanshire and Stirling Health and Social Care Partnership services in the area.

Service managers had hoped to recruit as many as 20 professionals last year, but not a single new staff member was hired.

Including relief staff, the Clackmannanshire headcount of the partnership was put at 215 as at September 2019, the figure stood at 237 in 2017-18.

Officers reporting to the Partnership and Performance Committee last Thursday, January 16, highlighted "increasing demand" and a "continued upward trend" in the number of adult social care referrals for both over and under 65s.

The number of social care referrals altogether went from 362 in 2018 to 453 in 2019, adults accounting for 64 and 89 cases, respectively.

Officers said there have been "challenges" around staffing, adding that there has been a "significant impact".

Councillor Helen Lewis sought to reassure employees when she said: "We know staff are working very hard [and] I wish them the very best."

Issues were also raised around staff sickness absence, a problem across the organisation.

According to figures October in 2019, the last month reported on in last week's council documents, there was 1.6 full time equivalent days lost to sickness on average.

In 2018-19, the overall average figure was 17.3, an improvement on 2017-18's 20.

There are some particular challenges for healthcare staff, who must demonstrate to be sickness-free for at least 48 hours before they are allowed to return to work.

Outbreaks can also inflate the numbers, the norovirus being one example cited by officers.

During the meeting, council leader Cllr Ellen Forson expressed frustration that she was unable to get answers to some of her questions.

Indeed, she claimed the report brought up more questions than it answered.

It is understood she had issues with exception reports, not included in papers on the day, which relate to performance monitoring.

Committee papers from April explained: "When performance is below expectations, these are reported as exceptions to the partnership management team."

At last week's meeting, Cllr Forson said there were "way too many" of these indicated in papers on the day.

Officers highlighted the Integration Joint Board (IJB) overseeing the partnership, on which the council leader sits, would be the best place to enquire.

But the council leader was adamant elected members have a duty to scrutinise performance at the Kilncraigs committee as well.

She asked: "Where's the accountability?"

Cllr Forson later explained that the committee was the council's forum to scrutinise, adding that the time to set budgets is rapidly approaching and there is about £60million going into the partnership.