Vacancy rates across care sector adding to staff mental health crisis
A union representing staff working in social care has warned that “huge” vacancy rates in the sector are adding extra pressure to staff, with a “substantial” proportion suffering from poor mental health, including post-traumatic stress disorder.
The Government’s failure to deal with the growing staffing crisis in social care risks worsening the mounting mental health toll on workers, a union has warned.
UNISON says a substantial proportion of social care staff have suffered problems during the pandemic including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), with more than two thirds (68%) saying their mental health has declined.
“My anxiety has increased,” one manager said. “I have noticed a significant change in employees’ mental health during the pandemic, which as a manager has been difficult. It’s hard to navigate the demands of their roles while looking after their wellbeing, especially when they want to be at work to help and feel bad for having time off.”
“I have lots of anxiety about the future. I’ve had COVID and am back to work, but I’m not feeling 100%. I’m finding things tough. I don’t want to let my team down, so I’m just soldiering on. Morale at work is the worst it has ever been. Staff are leaving. It’s such a worry,” another respondent said.
Revealing the findings of their survey, the union said most social care staff said their work had contributed to the difficulties they were experiencing. UNISON now says there is a serious risk health woes could worsen due to severe staff shortages across the sector adding extra pressure.
Staffing problems are likely to become more acute in the coming few weeks as thousands of care workers leave their jobs because of new compulsory vaccine rules, the union says, adding that recruitment problems caused by low pay, Brexit and increased competition for employees in the post-lockdown economy is putting even more pressure on staff who remain.
The union surveyed more than 4,000 staff, with more than eight in ten (85%) saying they had experienced mental health deterioration since the start of the pandemic, and that their work had been a factor.
Problems reported by the workforce ranged from what staff described as PTSD, to depression and anxiety, the inability to leave work stress behind and sleeping difficulties.
UNISON General Secretary Christina McAnea said social care staff had “been through the mill” over the course of the pandemic.
“They have seen dozens of people they look after either fall seriously ill or die. They’ve been terrified about becoming sick themselves or taking the virus home to their families. Many have struggled financially because of the absence of proper sick pay.
“Despite the Prime Minister’s promise to fix social care, there is still no plan. With the sector facing the abyss and thousands of staff down with others leaving all the time, more must be done to support those that remain in post.
“The Government’s commitment to funding mental health support is welcome. But help is needed now, not at some unknown point in the future.”
In addition to an overhaul of the sector to sort out chronic understaffing and endemic low pay, the union is calling for an immediate increase in support for care workers’ wellbeing, which staff must be able to access directly.
Last week the Government announced some money from the new health and social care levy would go towards funding mental health resources and helping staff recover from the pandemic. However, the union says this much-needed support must be developed with staff, not just by speaking to employers.
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