Care providers across the UK are reporting staff absence rates of up to 50%, amid concern of “mounting pressure” across the social care sector.
Publishing the findings of a snapshot survey, the National Care Forum (NCF) said it is “essential” that government takes heed of this “early warning signal” that care services could soon be “overwhelmed”.
In the survey, individual services reported between an 11% and 40% staff absence rate in the week commencing January 1, with some services revealing that over half of their staff were absent.
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.
In November 2020, the average staff absence rate across the board was 7%.
The NCF said care providers, 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 are using agency staff. But NCF executive director Vic Rayner (pictured) said this is not a sustainable position and must be addressed before social care is overwhelmed.
Rayner added: “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.”