The world has let out a collective cry for help over the past few weeks, to which healthcare and other frontline workers have responded in earnest.
However, the incredible toll of this undertaking is straining our existing infrastructure. So once again, in its hour of need, Britain has turned to extraordinary people for salvation. Across the country we can see initiatives being enacted at varying levels, as a communal spirit drives our anti-corona efforts.
The National Care Force is amongst the more ambitious of these initiatives.
Lorcán Murray, marketing executive at home care software supplier CarePlanner, spoke to the National Care Force co-founder, Dr Charles Armitage, about how it aims to support social care going forward.
The Force Awakens
The National Care Force is a free online platform set up to help social care providers fill staff gaps with health workers and volunteers during the coronavirus outbreak. It works by allowing volunteers to book shifts available across the social care sector.
“We launched it last month and got about ten thousand volunteers sign up across the country within a few days,” Armitage says. “The care homes have a massive interest in it. There are probably about 2,000 care homes interested in accessing the volunteer force.”
Armitage is aiming for 100,000 sign-ups to the National Care Force to help meet the needs of their care agencies.
Anyone can join as a volunteer, regardless of work background. They can apply for non-clinical work, such as picking up shopping for those self-isolating, or providing services such as cleaning and laundry.
Doctors, nurses, care workers, support workers, physiotherapists and occupational therapists can also apply for shifts covering staff rota gaps in a variety of care settings.
“So far (the applicants are) a bit of a mix,” Armitage says. “There’s healthcare workers, volunteers, some with DBS, some without, some that work in care, some that haven’t.”
The National Care Force makes sure to vet both the volunteers and the care providers requesting them.
Explaining the system, Armitage says: “The way it works is that care providers would get the app and create an account – it’s free.
“They say, ‘I need three volunteers tomorrow morning to do any range of jobs’. Then it starts to categorise people. [The main jobs are] cooking, care, driving, running errands and maintenance.
“This matches to volunteers in the area who have undergone a vetting process, like an ID check and potentially a DBS check. The care provider can choose if they do or don’t want to work with people without a DBS. Then it brings the two together.”
Building the System
The National Care Force’s origins are rooted in tech start-up Florence. As Florence’s founder, Armitage recognised his technology’s applicability to healthcare’s current challenges.
“So [in] our day jobs, we run Florence,” he says. “Then we just started doing this a week ago. We thought: ‘we’re good at building tech, we’re good at scaling workforce, and we’re good at matching supply to demand with workers.’
“This is a non-profit we’re making. The leadership is Florence but it’s started by Florence workers and some volunteers we have on social media in marketing and in tech to help build the product.”
The National Care Force has also secured funding to help it start supporting the sector further.
“We are getting funding; we’ve got a bit of cash lined up. We’ve got about £50,000, [and we’re] aiming to get a quarter million of funding, because over the next two months [we want to] build this and then take advantage of a lot of the volunteering capacity in the workforce at the moment. We want to make sure it lasts in perpetuity as a charity,” explains Armitage.
Building for the Future
When it comes to perpetuity, Armitage is aware of the National Care Force’s potential. He says: “I think going forward there is the opportunity to really raise the profile of social care within the country. So if we can get 100,000 out in the community supporting social care, potentially people that are losing their jobs, we can start getting them employed and working in social care.
“It can do a lot to change the national conversation about priorities. I am cautiously optimistic that through this challenge we can really improve how social care is seen within the sector, within the country actually.”
Helping in the Present
Armitage is not alone in recognising his organisation’s potential. Both the National Care Forum and Care England have endorsed the initiative to help support social care’s response to the coronavirus.
Vic Rayner, Executive Director of the National Care Forum, said: “National Care Force has come on line at just the right moment! People around the country will be wondering how they can help those most in need. This platform will connect up those who can with those who need care and support.
“Our members absolutely know the essential role that volunteers play in the provision of great care, and we really welcome this initiative to super charge this effort at this time of need.”
This is certainly a time of great need for social care. The direct strain on our frontline workers threatens to break our healthcare system.
The National Care Force is an initiative born out of necessity and powered by a sense of communal effort.
For more information, and to sign up as a volunteer or agency, visit: https://www.nationalcareforce.co.uk/