United Kingdom Homecare Association (UKHCA) has written to the Minister of Care to highlight the shortage of care workers in home care and what can be done by the government to help.
The organisation shared findings of a recent survey of its members and suggested solutions to Helen Whately to combat high pressures on capacity of home care services and the sector’s workforce.
The survey was conducted earlier this month on 140 providers, and of those who took part, 91% said recruitment is harder now than before COVID-19, or the hardest it has ever been.
Difficulty recruiting home care workers is particularly worrying, as two-thirds of providers reported that more care workers are leaving their roles than before the pandemic, or more often than the employers could ever remember. Hardly anybody (4%) thought retention rates had improved.
In a blog post, UKHCA CEO Dr Jane Townson (pictured) said: “Many factors affect capacity of the home care workforce. Our survey highlights that inadequate funding, which affects care workers’ pay, terms and conditions of employment, and the way that home care is commissioned and purchased, has a significant negative impact.
“Competition with other business sectors, such as hospitality and retail; COVID-19 and associated policies; and migration policy are also having a detrimental effect on number of home care workers available.”
UKHCA said that to avoid harm to older and disabled people through inability to provide care and support services, immediate policy changes are needed.
The representative body has called on the government to revise migration policy with urgency by adding all care workers to the Shortage Occupation List and reducing the salary threshold on migration, as well as waiving the Immigration Skills Charge for care workers.
It has also called for updated guidance on the management of staff and exposed patients or residents in health and social care social settings to reflect the new self-isolation guidance for health and car workers.
“Self-isolation requirements are having a major adverse impact on workforce capacity at present, so the change is welcome. It is, however, unclear how workable it will be in the short-term for local public health teams to authorise all risk assessments,” said Dr Townson.
The UKHCA wants the government to review restrictions on movement between care settings of double vaccinated and tested care workers to limit care workers leaving jobs in social care for employment in the NHS; and consider the exemption from quarantine for live-in care workers arriving in the UK from outside the Common Travel area, provided they are double vaccinated, PCR tested and without symptoms of COVID-19.
Dr Townson explained: “It is important to balance the mitigated risk of infection with that to the safety and well-being of highly dependent older or disabled people being left without care. Current quarantine arrangements are significantly reducing the willingness of care workers to travel to the UK, particularly from EEA and EU countries.”
UKHCA also wants the government to recognise legitimate vaccination certificates of care workers from outside the UK, in addition to those supplied by the NHS; drop proposals for a requirement on social care providers only to deploy staff who are fully vaccinated, in favour of a voluntary approach to vaccination of home care workers, and combine this with support for vaccine-hesitant staff; and release targeted workforce capacity funding, paid directly to employers, which enables care providers to pay enhancements to staff to encourage them to remain in the care sector, rather than move to hospitality or retail.
The government should also re-invigorate the national recruitment campaign for care workers, UKHCA said; provide bonuses of £500 per care worker to thank them for their dedication at a time of national emergency; recognise home care in internal and public communications; and fund occupational health support for care workers, as is available for NHS staff.
In the long-term, UKHCA has called on the government to fund social care adequately so that home care workers are paid fairly; end the practice of councils and the NHS purchasing home care ‘by the minute’; support the development of an expert-led workforce strategy; and create a professional register for care workers in England, covering all paid social care workers in both regulated and unregulated care services.