Home Covid Health and social care workers averaged 86-hour weeks through pandemic

Health and social care workers averaged 86-hour weeks through pandemic

by Lisa Carr

New report reveals staggering number of hours worked by key workers in the health and care sector, evidencing the Health and Social Care Committee’s warning of burnout

Leading workforce management app, Deputy, has released its Shiftwork Economy Report, revealing the reality of shift work during the pandemic. 

The report, which provides analysis of 11.5 million shifts worked by more than 350,000 UK shift workers, proves the burden placed on key workers in the health and social care sector.

Staff in the sector worked an average of 86-hours per week between January 2019 and May 2021, fuelled by overtime and dual-shifts in 24-hour periods, as well as overnight stays in care home settings through lockdowns.

The data backs up the findings of last month’s Health and Social Care Committee report, where MPs warned NHS and care staff in England are so burnt out that it has become an “emergency” and risks the future of the health service.

“Our data shows unhealthy work patterns placing individuals at risk of burnout, physical injury, mental and other health issues,” said David Kelly, General Manager for EMEA at Deputy. “These findings prove how health and care workers have been expected to go above and beyond from the very beginning of the pandemic. The hours being worked are not only unsustainable but highlight the lack of protection in place for shift workers in the UK.”

Former Minister for Care Services Phil Hope, Chair of the Future Social Care Coalition, said: “This report shows the urgent need for investment in the social care sector, to deliver workforce reform and fair pay and working conditions. It cannot be right that people in social care positions are so vastly overworked and underpaid despite their heroic efforts during the pandemic. 

“It is time for the government to respect, reward and regulate, to support all those working on the ‘forgotten frontline’ by bringing forward as a matter of urgency a Social Care People Plan to mirror the NHS People Plan. It has never been clearer that the 1.5 million workers in the care sector deserve parity with the 1.5million employed in the NHS. They warrant and deserve a fair deal.”

The Shiftwork Economy Report looked at 2.75 million shifts worked by more than 52,000 health and social care workers and found:

  • As the pandemic struck (March 2020), Baby Boomers (57-75 year olds) working in the sector experienced a 72% increase in the hours they worked.
  • Workers from Generation X (41-56 year olds) experienced a 64% increase in hours at that time.
  • Millennial (24-40 year olds) and Generation Z (under 24s) health and social care workers also saw their hours increase by 28% and by 15%.
  • Average monthly hours worked by all of these age groups are not yet back down to pre-Covid levels.

Liam Palmer is Registered Home Manager for Valley Court Care Home in Birmingham. He is an expert on residential care, regularly hosting a podcast on care quality and having written three books on the subject.

“As a well established care home we always go above and beyond for our residents, but the past 16 months have been exceptionally demanding for our staff team,” said Liam. “In the midst of the pandemic we invested in technology to make everything run more smoothly, so our team has clarity and reassurance about when they’ll be working. However we know that this is not the case for everybody. Recruiting carers to fill the growing demand across social care continues to be challenging especially with recent developments including Brexit. There are major challenges around the longer-term risk to staffing that need to be addressed nationally.”

David Kelly added: “Deputy’s data, showing hours scheduled and worked, is useful in understanding how sectors with a significant shift worker employee base have been performing and are likely to perform in the future. The UK government is failing to address the needs of critical sectors and their shift workers. We urge policy-makers and employers to use the truth of this data to their advantage, to secure a sustainable key workforce going forward.”

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