06:00PM, Wednesday 29 September 2021
An industry body based in Berkshire has written a damning letter to health chiefs highlighting ‘unprecedented’ difficulties within the social care sector.
The Berkshire Care Association (BCA), the representative body for all Care Quality Commission providers in the county, says the industry is suffering ‘chronic staff shortages’ and is having to refuse care contracts.
It has called for action to be taken to improve the living wage of carers and has asked for staff to not be ‘drowned in unnecessary paperwork’.
Peter Lomax, executive chair of the BCA, said: “The pressures on our sector are real, and if left unaddressed, will increase – resulting in the NHS, local authorities and families struggling to find residential care or support.
“As the world opens, we are still coming to terms with the challenges of the pandemic, particularly the restrictions on visiting, wearing PPE, the seemingly weekly changes in guidance and overwhelming intrusion from external regulators, whilst at the same time having to deal with the day to day running of all our services.”
Mr Lomax said staff shortages were being caused by sickness, enforced isolation and ‘burnout’.
“Providers are having to balance capacity with available staff and are therefore unable to accept or admit new residents because of chronic staff shortages,” Mr Lomax added.
“One domiciliary care provider has 50 per cent less staff than a year ago and recently very reluctantly had to turn down care packages for two people wanting end of life care.”
There is also worry that the pressure on the social care sector will lead to hospitals unable to discharge patients, which has led to the coining of the phrase ‘bed blockers’.
Two care sector workers, who spoke to the Advertiser and wished to remain anonymous, said they have not seen the social care situation as bad as this in their careers.
“I feel like care homes have become prisons for older people,” one said.
“It feels like you are in a mosh pit at the front of a concert and you are getting crushed.”
They added: “I have been around in the sector for 30 odd years and have not seen it as bad.
“The process feels more important than the person, and it should always be patient-driven.
“From registered nurses to carers to chefs – every single person that you try and recruit is exceptionally difficult, as well as the fact that we have an ageing workforce.”
“It is a really rewarding, feel good factor job but it is physically and mentally demanding – and people do not want to do it because they hear all the negativity.
“As a sector, it has been grossly underinvested in forever.”
As well as calling for more funding and better pay for staff, the workers also urged the industry to be more sector-led.
“Get us to run our own sector because we know the reality,” one said. “Pay our staff honestly for the contributions they make.”
A better image to entice younger people into joining was also needed, they added, while there is also a desire for providers to pay at least the living wage to staff - by making fees paid by councils and Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) 'more in line with the actual cost of care'.
The ability to perform their own training rather than being told which training to complete was also cited as a necessity by one of the care sector workers, with staff said to be overwhelmed by influences from 'middle men' and towering paperwork.
Petrol panic buying has had an impact on the lives of social care workers, with queues at fuel stations across the area.
“I have known carers travelling around at midnight trying to find a garage to try and get to work,” one worker said. “They are so committed to their clients, and we think: ‘what are we doing to these people?’”
A Department for Health spokesman said: “The adult social care workforce will always have our deepest gratitude.
“We are providing an unprecedented investment of £500million across three years to deliver new qualifications, progression pathways and support and continue to work closely with local authorities and providers to ensure there will always be enough staff with the right skills."
A Royal Borough council spokesman said: “The Royal Borough recognises the pressures in the care sector across the UK and appreciates the concerns that BCA has raised.
"We will continue to work with the association, the local authorities and CCGs across Berkshire on the issues outlined in the letter, including highlighting the need for a sustainable and fair financial settlement for social care.”
The Frimley Health CCG, which covers East Berkshire, said in a statement: "The CCG has been working with the care sector and BCA in a number of different ways before and during the pandemic.
"The CCG really appreciates that it has been a very challenging time for providers and would like to thank the BCA for raising these concerns on behalf of their members.
"The CCG works with care providers to ensure we have best value for money whilst supporting providers sustainability of their services. We continue to review the funding to provide the care and support needed to the residents in Frimley CCG.
"The Frimley Health and Care ICS workforce lead have heard from BCA as part of their enquiries about how the system can support a coordinated approach across all our providers where we have recruitment and retention difficulties.
"This includes approaches that can be adopted that work for some providers where we can share and learn from best practice.
"Listening and supporting providers by understanding their priorities is very important to the CCG either with individual care homes, through forums or with the BCA.
"With this in mind we will continue to work with care providers, the BCA, health providers and local authorities, and look at ways to address the areas raised in the letter."
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