The Government has announced a new £120 million fund for local authorities to boost staffing levels within the social care sector.
The impact of the new variant is being felt across the country, with staff absence rates rising sharply both in care homes and among home care staff, due to testing positive or having to self-isolate.
According to a survey, conducted by the National Care Forum (NCF), staffing pressure is mounting with reports of individual services reporting between 11% and 40% staff absence and a few services reporting staffing absences of over 50%. NCF say providers are under huge pressure and, in the very short- term, are having to run services through a combination of offering extra overtime to other staff, bringing in staff from other services and not accepting new referrals or admissions from hospital or the community.
Where absences cannot be resolved in-house, care providers were using agency staff – however according to NCF, this is not a sustainable position.
The £120m funding announced will aim to protect and support the social care sector, including care homes and domiciliary care providers, by increasing workforce capacity.
The vital infection prevention and control guidance on staff movement in care homes is also being reinforced, with a reminder to providers to continue following the rules and keep staff and residents safe.
The Government said the new £120 million funding will:
- Provide additional care staff where shortages arise.
- Support administrative tasks so experienced and skilled staff can focus on providing care.
- Help existing staff to take on additional hours if they wish with overtime payments or by covering childcare costs.
Many local authorities across the country already have staffing initiatives in place to increase capacity and address staffing issues. These include care worker staff banks where new recruits are paid during training, re-deployment models where DBS checked staff are trained and moved into operational roles, and end-to-end training and recruitment services. The Government said the new £120m fund will help to ensure such initiatives can continue, and help other local authorities implement similar schemes.
Restricting staff movement remains critical to minimising the risk of transmission. In response to the Government’s consultation, the sector called for an increase in staffing capacity instead of regulation to achieve this goal.
Professor Martin Green OBE, Chief Executive of Care England said, ‘Care England is pleased that the Government listened to the sector regarding its deep concerns about banning staff movement. We want to work with the DHSC to ensure that the Staff Capacity Fund delivers to the front line and is suitably flexible to reflect the crisis whereby providers are struggling with staff illness and absenteeism in the same way as their colleagues in the NHS are. Staff are our most precious resource, and we want to do all that we can to support them especially in these incredibly difficult times.’
Vic Rayner, Executive Director of the National Care Forum (NCF) said, ‘It is positive that the Government has taken note of the extreme staffing pressure that care providers across the country are experiencing. The funding confirmed is welcome news but must be subject to continuous review. Communities across the country desperately need care organisations to be properly supported now and, in the future, so that they are ready and able to face every twist and turn of this pandemic.
‘Funding is needed first and foremost to maximise the contribution of the existing workforce, enabling provider organisations to address immediate staff pressures. For some providers this will mean paying existing staff to work additional hours, to overstaff services to cope with short notice absences, and to reward and support those who have been at the frontline of this pandemic, without relief, for the last 10 months.
‘It is very important that the Government has listened to the care sector and rowed back from its previous recommendation to use Care Quality Commission (CQC) regulation to prevent staff movement. It was an ill-thought through policy proposal, which targeted low paid care workers and created high level of concerns that people would be required to choose between health and care settings at a time when their skills and expertise were desperately needed. Care homes have been doing everything possible to reduce staff movement, and the prospect of regulatory enforcement was extremely unhelpful in a sector stretched to near breaking point.'
The £120m fund is in addition to the £149 million announced in December, which will be used to support rapid testing of staff testing and facilitate visits from family and friends where possible.
The NCF asked care providers, in a snapshot survey, to give details of their most challenging staffing situation that they have faced between the 1st January 2021 and the 8th January 2021 across their whole range of services.
Visit the Skills for Care website for guidance on best practice for winter staff models.