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Home care providers lay out contingency plans for staff shortages during COVID-19 pandemic

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Several national home care providers have implemented contingency plans to manage their services in the event of a sudden drop in staffing capacity during the coronavirus outbreak.

Speaking to Home Care Insight, services said they are well prepared for care workers having to self-isolate and being unable to work as the situation progresses.

Some providers, like Right at Home UK, have been in touch with retirees and volunteers to make up the numbers, and their current members of staff are taking on additional hours.

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Others are discussing the possibility of workforce sharing, both across their own network of offices, and with other agencies.

An emergency Bill, announced last night, will allow recently retired NHS staff and social care workers to return to work without any negative repercussions to their pensions to ease pressures on the health and care workforce.

Volunteers will have extra employment safeguards, allowing them to pause their main jobs for up to four weeks while they help care for patients in the health and care system.

Right at Home UK CEO Ken Deary said: “Across our network, we have already seen an increasing number of enquiries from former nurses and care assistants who are keen to support us in ensuring continuity of care for our clients. We are also encouraging those from other sectors who may have had their hours cut as a result of the coronavirus, such as hospitality and leisure, to consider supporting the most vulnerable in our local communities.

“Our CareGivers have been truly exceptional, going above and beyond to pick up extra shifts and living and breathing our motto of “making a difference every day”. We are incredibly grateful and proud of their positive, can-do attitude and determination to continue delivering the highest quality care.

“We know in challenging times like this, the power of uniting together and how our local communities can really make a difference to help those who need our support.”

Radfield Home Care, headquartered in Shropshire, has a similar plan.

Franchisor Dr Hannah MacKechnie said: “We have implemented contingency planning to manage our services with large numbers of our carers absent. This includes identifying staff who can work additional hours, volunteers who can provide non-regulated care activities and office staff who can support with care work.

“Our focus will always be to maintain a full service wherever possible and look after our clients to the very best of our ability through challenging times.”

Providers such as Radfield have asked carers to take care outside of work and not to place themselves at risk of infection, in order to protect clients and limit the disruption of the service.

The latest government advice for care providers is that if a member of staff is concerned they have COVID-19 they should follow NHS advice and if they are advised to self-isolate at home they should follow the stay at home guidance.

Ashridge Home Care, which delivers live-in, hourly and specialist care in Buckinghamshire and the South East, said it will continue to monitor news from Public Health England and the World Health Organization, and is “committed to reassessing the situation”.

Managing director Trudi Scrivener said: “We have informed our carers on how to correctly diagnose themselves should they display symptoms. Incorrect diagnosis could lead to staff unnecessarily isolating themselves so we have been thorough in advising our carers of the symptoms to look out for. And we have other measures in place to ensure we have cover for any unforeseen circumstances. 

“We are only accepting the minimum number of visitors to our office; this is to minimise the risk of infection within the office and subsequent contraction from our visiting employees.

“We are also minimising the amount of visits to our clients and therefore will not be carrying out our routine quality checks from HQ staff – care visits only.

Ashridge is also working to put together a list of volunteers and carers available to work, and will share this with other agencies to make sure that the most vulnerable people can be cared for.

Meanwhile, Caremark is working with United Kingdom Homecare Association, the CQC and the government to find alternative ways of expanding its workforce.

Managing director David Glover said: “We’re working to see if we can temporarily relax certain regulations to make it easier to recruit staff, whilst maintaining the integrity of our service. The CQC has already announced that it is suspending inspections to allow care businesses to focus their efforts entirely on the provision of care.

“We’re looking at other ways to expand the workforce too, and have a business continuity plan in place which covers pandemics, so we are prepared.

“We note with interest the government’s proposals to allow people to volunteer to work in the care sector. Perhaps in industries where people are being laid off, some of these workers could be mobilised to work in care? 

“However, if there are staff shortages, clients with urgent or critical care needs may need to be prioritised in some cases.”

Home Instead Senior Care UK said its Quality Support Team is in place to ensure high standards of care are maintained across all offices. It is also monitoring the situation closely to help manage risks of spreading the COVID-19 virus.

“There have already been discussions with neighbouring franchise offices around the possibility of workforce-sharing, which would mean if a CAREGiver or a group of CAREGivers from a local office were taken unwell or needed to self-isolate, that local CAREGivers from a nearby office could be on hand to assist with additional client needs,” said CEO Martin Jones.

“We are also in discussions with other reputable home care agencies around the possibility of workforce sharing should that become a need as this pandemic continues.

“Our primary concern is always the client and their safety and we are committed to ensuring all clients have access to the care they need to remain safe and cared for at home.”

Good Oaks Home Care director Ben Ashton said a sudden drop in staffing capacity is part of the company’s contingency plans, and it will be building on this as the situation evolves.

“We are in regular contact with our clients and our staff to keep them updated and we’ve shared our plans with them: this includes the possibility of some service disruption, such as call times changing and changes to personnel,” he said.

“Supporting one another and effective teamwork will be incredibly important at this time. We are monitoring for updates from Public Health England and will continue to keep our clients and carers informed.”

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Sarah Clarke

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