In a survey published by the National Care Forum (NCF), we are seeing an increase in the pressures facing the social care sector as we see the impact of the Omicron variant and the limitations of government support on the frontline. This is having a real impact on people now – 66% of the homecare providers responding are now having to refuse new requests for home care and 43% of providers of care homes are closing to new admissions, while 21% of providers of home care are handing back existing care packages.
Such pressures raise serious concerns at a time when NHS England reports its bid to urgently discharge more patients early from hospitals to free up beds, creating additional pressure to an already overstretched sector.
Staff absence levels compounded by existing vacancy rates
Overall, the providers responding reported 18% vacancy rate and 14% absence as a result of the Omicron variant. While the absence rate may be temporary, the vacancy rate has been well documented as growing at an alarming rate over the last six months and has been compounded by other policy decisions such as mandating vaccines as a condition of deployment.
The impact of staff shortages is putting existing staff teams under tremendous pressure. Frontline staff are giving it all by picking up extra shifts, non-care staff are being redeployed from other areas of the organisation to deliver care and support. In addition, providers are having to be much more reliant on agency staff, with a high associated costs, with some members being quoted hourly rates of over £30 for front line staff, and up to £50 an hour for nurses.
“We currently have a national staff turnover of 39% with 44% in the South”
“Difficulty in recruiting plus staff absence is difficult to manage.”
“The situation changes by the shift let alone by the day. It is firefighting every day and prioritising delivery of care over other responsibilities.”
“We have had to have contingency plans in place asking families and volunteers to help out. Also, our directors and senior managers are on standby and have covered waking night shifts.”
Covid testing is an essential part of the support package from the DHSC. However, respondents report significant failings of the system not working well enough. There are extensive delays to PCR results and insufficient access to lateral flow tests, which are increasingly exacerbating staff shortages.
“Delays in PCR results for residents is leaving us unsure as to their Covid status and for staff it is delaying them returning to work.”
System-wide failures – ‘just grim, difficult and relentless’
Vic Rayner OBE, CEO of the NCF said:
“It is unacceptable that yet again, nearly 2 years on from the start of the pandemic, we continue to see enormous pressures in the care and support sector, this time compounded by the impact of Omicron. Staff shortages are excessively high and everything must be done to support providers to operate safe and quality services, so that people have access to the care and support they need, when they need it.
“The adoption of a strategy by government that gives social care the crumbs from the table in an unrealistic hope that somehow it can continue to operate regardless of meaningful attention is negligent. The NCF and our membership have been highlighting the growing shortages in the workforce and the knock-on impact on those who remain working in the sector and those who use care and support services for many months. How many times does this message need to be repeated for it to be heard?
“The continual drip feed approach to funding, which as a result of bureaucracy fails to reach providers in a timely manner, is indicative of an approach that does not properly value the people who receive or deliver care. Those working on the frontline describe the situation today as ‘grim, difficult and relentless’. This must stop. Social care matters to us all, and it is imperative that policy makers properly understand and appreciate the essential part social care contributes, alleviating the many pressures in communities, including those experienced by the NHS and, most importantly the people who need care and support.