At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Health & Social Care was one of the few sectors with a high number of vacancies, without fear of redundancies. A shift in perception saw healthcare workers as ‘key workers’ and integral members of our communities. Professionals re-joined the industry, interest in training to be a Nurse peaked, and there was temporary stability in the workforce. Unfortunately, as the pandemic went on, workers experienced burnout and devastating trauma, and the stability gained was quickly undone.
To add to this, mandatory vaccinations for Private Sector healthcare workers came into effect on 11th November, affecting all those working in a CQC adult care service unless medically exempt. As an agency, Search Health & Social Care were fortunate enough to remain flexible and creative in our approach, assigning staff to both care and hospital settings. Workers not yet vaccinated were given alternative work in Public Sector settings where they can legally undertake duties until further vaccination requirements take effect in April. Whilst there has been anger towards healthcare employers from care workers who did not want the vaccination due to a variety of reasons, including fertility, fear of side effects, or personal beliefs, on the whole, care workers have accepted the change and shown resilience. A resilience that will be tested as Omicron, and potential future waves, force necessary staff isolation and threaten to thin out the workforce.
Concerning Brexit, it remains unseen what true effect this will have on the industry. As it stands, 5.6% of NHS workers are from EEA countries. Within our workforce, EU workers have gained ‘settled status’ and continued with their work, alongside the predicted 7.5% of workers from non-EU countries who remain unaffected. However, with Brexit restricting the free movement of labour between the UK and EEA countries, a real threat is posed on attracting EU workers, including highly qualified Doctors and Consultants.
New legislation changes show that positive steps are being made in adding care staff to the Shortage Occupation List, which will maximise workforce potential. The care home staffing crisis may not be as widespread as feared, thanks to bank workers, students, and temp agencies, although there is still concern regarding workforce capacity and staff retention as we enter the winter months.
In our experience, staff shortage is not a result of mandatory vaccinations or the Brexit fallout. Moreover, there are huge regional disparities as recruitment remains challenging in remote and rural areas. Unlike cities, there simply isn’t the volume of the workforce needed to support more hard-to-reach services, exacerbated due to a lack of access to transport and greater reliance on car drivers. Ultimately, higher salary and pay rates will attract people into the sector. There is no disputing that work in retail, hospitality or warehouses can be taxing – but the emotional skills and responsibility required for ‘minimum wage’ care roles should surely elevate their remuneration?
Alongside higher pay, the care sector also needs to build stronger relationships with training providers, schools and colleges to provide practical work experience. Campaigns attracting men to entry-level roles need to take effect as there is still a perception that care is a career better suited to women. Not only this, but the sector needs to adopt new ways of working to allow for more flexibility and better work-life balance. Care providers should review their working practices and offer better working patterns and packages in the absence of home working.
Whilst there has been some noise made about how the so-called Social Care levy will benefit users of care services from a cost-saving perspective, how it will benefit the workforce has been left unsaid. If the government levy can offer a more attractive employee package, it could help drive new workers into the industry. At length, a more fulfilled workforce will provide better care services and prevent service understaffing during these crucial times.