It now seems highly likely that we will see a significant increase in the number of people infected with coronavirus over the weeks and months ahead. Here at Crooton, we are fully committed to standing shoulder to shoulder with our health and social care colleagues to get suitably skilled staff permanently deployed to those most vulnerable in our society.
We are already supporting a number of health and social care agencies to respond to the Coronavirus threat from a position of strength. By overfilling permanent roles, and aiming for 110% post occupancy, not only will shortages be less acute but those on the ground will be better placed to provide continuity of care than ‘in-demand’ ad hoc locums.
An article in the Guardian last week (Care workers could be redeployed to UK coronavirus hotspots, Guardian, Wed 4 Mar 2020) looked at plans being made within the Care Sector to address the issues that are likely to arise. These included a review of obligatory background checks by the Department of Health and Social Care, that can currently take upto 2 weeks, to see whether these would impact on implementing an emergency plan. It would seem prudent at this time for the commissioners to at least allow staff to start who have had DBS clearance in the last 12 months, whilst new ones are pending.
Industry leaders within the sector have said that without emergency measures, the forecasted infection levels in the UK could force homes to close and residents to be moved to NHS facilities. This would inevitably cause considerable distress and further increase the burden on already stretched services.
The Adult Social Care Sector currently employs a workforce of over 1.5 million, with employees split between permanent 91%, temporary 3%, bank 4%, agency 1% and other 1%. With a 7.8% open vacancy rate (skillsforcecare.org) and usual sickness rates typically running higher for Carers than the average for the UK economy at 4.8 lost days per year, there is already significant pressure on the workforce to maintain service levels.
As infection control measures increase, the number of workers self-isolating will significantly impact on service quality and delivery. The impact might be partly mitigated through a greater reliance on locum bank/agency staff and extended working hours. However, if government predictions are right, and 20% of the population are off work at the height of the epidemic, then this will clearly create some very significant problems and the situation will be exacerbated the longer this period lasts. With the Government officials now forecasting a peak in April, there is little time to mobilise and ensure there is sufficiently skilled permanent staff available.
Care providers should look at reducing the number of open vacancies they currently carry in an attempt to reduce the impact of coronavirus on the continuation of services. With a turnover rate of staff of a little over 30% in the sector, staffing levels will return to normal levels very quickly post virus, minimizing the longer term financial impact.
Technological solutions might help care providers speed up recruitment within their sector – online services for reducing processing times on DBS checks, recruitment marketing tools to access potential candidates and screening services to allow internal recruitment teams to operate more efficiently.
A mix of technology, good strategic planning and focused resourcing is likely to help minimize the impact of this virus in the sector over the coming months. However, with forecasts on the potential spread changing by the hour, it would seem that the window of opportunity to make the greatest impact is shortening.