Social care staff shortages an ‘early warning flag’ as cases continue to rise

The Government has been warned that care homes risk being overwhelmed by the coronavirus, as the National Care Forum (NCF) finds that some providers are having to operate at only 50% of staffing capacity.

Increasing numbers of social care staff having to isolate after a positive test is leaving care providers with potentially dangerous staff shortages as the second wave of the coronavirus continues to spread across the UK, according to a new report from the National Care Forum (NCF).

The snapshot survey of care providers, carried out from 1-8 January 2021, showed individual services reported staff absences ranging between 11 and 40%, with a small number reporting that up to half of their staff were absent due to Covid-19.

The report notes that the combination of increased testing of care home staff and residents as well as high levels of community transmission has resulted in these new staff shortages as a ‘clear and loud alarm’ to the UK government.

Providers are having to run services through a combination of offering extra overtime, bringing in staff from other services and not accepting new referrals or admissions from hospital or the community.

The findings come as hospitals are struggling to cope with the numbers of Covid-19 patients being admitted into hospitals on a daily basis and are looking to move some patients back into care settings.

NHS Trust leaders have called for an emergency approach between the NHS, local and national government, and the care sector to move patients from hospitals into care homes when they ‘no longer require complex medical care’.

Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers said that whilst there was ‘no question’ of using care homes for patients who could introduce COVID-19 infection into those settings, pressures on the NHS had reached a point where hospitals needed to ‘urgently identify additional capacity – beyond hospitals and NHS community service beds – to ensure newly arriving patients get the care they need.’

“We need more beds, and with the right NHS clinical support and government financial support, there is a potential opportunity to use care and nursing homes and extra social care at home for that additional bed capacity,” Hopson added.

However, Vic Rayner, Executive Director of the NCF, warned that care services were already under ‘immense pressure’ and urged the Government to take action ‘to ensure social care services can provide the care and support so desperately needed.’

Rayner added that additional staffing capacity would need to be resourced quickly 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.”

“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,” Rayner continued.

“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. Vaccination for care workers must be delivered at pace, and we need prioritised turnaround of testing from care homes.”

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