Staff absence rates grow among care providers

Vic Rayner, executive director, NCF

Staffing pressures are growing among care providers with some services reporting absences of over 50%.

The National Care Forum (NCF) said it was becoming more apparent that operators were finding individual services hit hard by absences associated with high levels of community transmission of Covid-19.

Its snapshot survey carried out between 1-8 January found individual services reported between 11% and 40% staff absence, while a few services said it was over 50%. The representative association for not-for-profit social care providers said anything above 10% was unusual.

Absences were caused by a combination of a Covid-19 positive case being picked up by PCR testing, self-isolation following contact tracing, shielding and childcare responsibilities.

Significant pressures were mainly in residential and nursing care home settings.

‘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,’ said Vic Rayner, National Care Forum executive director. ‘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,’ she said.

Rayner said workers were already ‘shattered both physically and emotionally’ from the past 11 months.

The survey found services were offering extra overtime to staff, bringing in workers from other services, using agency, and not accepting new referrals or admissions from hospital or the community.

Rayner said: ‘Vaccination for care workers must be delivered at pace, and we need prioritised turnaround of testing from care homes. Every day that we turn a blind eye to the challenges facing social care, our chances of addressing the equally pressing challenges in health care are diminished. The time for action is now.’

The government has said it will be offering a vaccination to everyone in the top four priority groups by 15 February. This is all residents in a care home for older adults and their carers; all those 80 years of age and over and frontline health and social care workers; all those 75 years of age and over; and people 70 years of age and over and clinically extremely vulnerable individuals.

The government will be publishing its Covid-19 UK vaccines delivery plan today (Monday 11 Jan).