The National Care Forum (NCF) – the leading not-for-profit association for social care providers – have been working with their membership over recent days as it becomes ever more apparent that care providers across the country are finding individual services hit hard by staff absences associated with high levels of community transmission of COVID 19.

In a snapshot survey carried out by the NCF, care providers shared what was happening on the ground in their most challenged service. The survey findings provides a clear and loud alarm for government to take note of just how hard COVID-19 is hitting on the frontline with services reporting:-

  • Staffing pressure mounting with reports of individual services reporting between 11% and 40% staff absence and a few services reporting staffing absences of over 50%.
  • Absences were caused by a combination of COVID-19 positive case being picked up by PCR testing, self-isolation following contact tracing, shielding and childcare responsibilities.
  • 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 this is not a sustainable position and must be addressed before social care is overwhelmed.

Vic Rayner, Executive Director of the NCF says:

“It is essential that government takes heed of this early warning signal that care services are under immense pressure. Staff in care services have been at the very front line of this battle against COVID-19 for over 11 months, and are shattered both physically and emotionally. In the midst of this, individuals and teams are stepping up once again to flex and cover large-scale staff absences brought about by a combination of testing, self-isolation, shielding and childcare. They are undoubtedly heroes, but asking them to do this over and again is not sustainable.

“While the recent focus has been on the pressure being experienced by hospitals and the NHS, this is a red flag that pressure is mounting in the social care sector too. We must pay close attention to this as social care is integral to the overall system. If people cannot be supported to leave hospital, whether that is by moving into a care home or having care at home, then the whole system will fail. NHS saves lives – but so does social care – and it must be properly supported to ensure that it can play its vital role in making the whole system work for communities.

“Action is needed now to ensure social care services can provide the care and support so desperately needed. Additional capacity needs to be resourced and built into care services to allow for full staffing to be available in the light of short-term absences of the nature that services are seeing during this period of exceptionally high community transmission. Vaccination for care workers must be delivered at pace, and we need prioritised turnaround of testing from care homes. Every day that we turn a blind eye to the challenges facing social care, our chances of addressing the equally pressing challenges in health care are diminished. The time for action is now.

Ends

 

Note to Editors:

Background to the survey

NCF asked care providers 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. This is not intended to be a representative survey but rather to provide a snapshot. It is therefore the case that the data supplied showed a snapshot of current examples of individual services with the highest level of staff absence, although respondents also indicated that these  was not by any means the only services facing a challenging staffing position.

Key findings:

  • Staffing pressure looks to be mounting: We received reports of individual services with staffing pressures of between 11% and 40% staff absence and a few services reported staffing absences of over 50%. This needs to be seen in context – in November 2020, the average staff absence rate across the board was 7%, so anything above 10% can be regarded as unusual.
  • Geography – these services were located around the country, across a range of regions and were not limited to the areas originally flagged as having very high levels of community transmission, such as the South East and London.
  • Types of service under pressure – the services reported as having significant staffing pressures were mainly residential / nursing care home settings.
  • Job roles affected – unsurprisingly, the absence was spread across job roles within the settings, but was most marked in front line care workers and ancillary support workers.
  • The high levels of staff absence were caused by COVID-19 positive case being picked up by PCR testing, self-isolation following contact tracing, shielding and childcare responsibilities.
  • Solutions being used to handle the situation were offering extra overtime to other staff, bringing in staff from other services and not accepting new referrals or admissions. The use of agency staff was also a key solution if the staffing issues could not be resolved in-house.
  • The details above relate to individual services experiencing the highest levels of pressure – but respondents told us that they did, in some cases, have other services potentially facing very similar pressures.

The National Care Forum brings together over 130 of the UK’s leading social care  organisations, representing large numbers of care providers, offering thousands of services across the country, which are not for profit and always at the heart of community provision. Collectively, these organisations deliver more than £2 billion of social care support to more than 167,000 people in 9,200 settings. The NCF membership body collectively employs more than 95,500 colleagues.