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The pressure of staff shortages in care homes

The level of vacancies and turnovers in the care sector are the highest they’ve ever been, which is putting an increasing amount of pressure on care homes. And with more people reaching the age of 85 than ever before, it’s an issue that’s likely to get worse. 

Advancements in healthcare and declining fertility rates mean we’re living with an ageing population, with the number of people aged over 65 expected to increase another 40% by 2035. This increase means the demand for social care is escalating rapidly – but with over 110,000 vacant roles and a turnover rate of 30.7%, it’s a problem the care sector isn’t equipped to deal with. 

These shortages mean that there aren’t enough carers to effectively respond to the needs of their patients, meaning that existing care workers are often stretched thin, affecting their ability to provide compassionate care and enjoy their jobs on a day-to-day basis. 

So, why are care homes facing a staffing crisis, and how can they start to tackle this issue? In this article, we explore the primary causes of staff shortages in care homes, as well as how the industry can boost recruitment and encourage staff loyalty. 

Why are there staff shortages in care homes? 

There are numerous social and economic reasons why staff shortages in care homes are at an all-time high. However, most of the vacancies can be linked to three key causes: an ageing population, the stigma in the care industry and the uncertainty of Brexit.  

The impact of Brexit on social care

It’s hard to point to a sector that’s not been impacted by Brexit in some way or another, but the care industry has already been hit particularly hard. Of the 1.47 million people working in adult social care, over 100,000 are from the EU, with one in seven care worker roles in London filled by an EU national. 

According to a report by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), leaving the EU could have a “significant impact” on an already struggling care workforce, meaning the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) needs to put recruitment and contingency plans in place ahead of the UK’s departure. 

Although the government has promised that EU citizens who’ve lived in the UK for five years or more before the 29th March 2019 – the UK’s original deadline for leaving the European Union – can apply to stay indefinitely, many felt isolated and unwelcomed by the Brexit vote. This has led to the number of EU citizens living in the UK steadily decreasing since the referendum in 2016, with 132,000 fewer EU nationals working in the UK between July and September 2018 (compared to that same period in 2017). 

Despite the options promised to EU citizens who’ve been living in the UK long term, the situation for EU workers post-Brexit remains uncertain. Following the vote, the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) recommended the government restricts the rights of ‘low-skilled’ workers, which refers to those earning less than £30,000. This would have a drastic impact on the care sector, where many highly-skilled EU workers enjoy a fulfilling career on a salary of less than £30,000. 

If the care sector is going to thrive in a post-Brexit economy, a focus has to be put on supporting existing EU staff. 

Coping with an ageing population 

One of the biggest issues facing the care workforce is that the population is ageing. By 2040, it’s estimated that there will be 15 million people aged 65 or over living in the UK, compared to 8.7 million under 16s. Already, workforce body Skills for Care estimates that we need an additional 130,000 carers every year, amounting to 650,000 by 2035. 

What’s more, the care workforce is ageing too. A fifth of all care workers are over 55 years old, meaning that approximately 300,000 carers will be retiring in the next decade. 

And it’s not just that there will be more elderly patients requiring care. With an estimated 90,000 UK residents expected to live to be over 100 years old by 2034, people in care will likely have more complex health problems, leading to more demand for live-in or even round-the-clock. 

With a workforce that’s already struggling with high staff turnover rates, there needs to be a drive towards recruitment and career progression for existing care workers. 

Stigma in the care sector 

Despite the fact that more than 80% of care services are rated as good or outstanding by the Care Quality Commission, many media organisations portray care homes in a negative light, leading to a public perception that care work is low paid, low skilled and unfulfilling. 

According to the PAC’s report on the adult social care workforce, “the prestige given to roles in care, for example care workers and nurses who work in care, is worse than that of comparable roles in health (healthcare workers and nurses respectively).” 

With this in mind, Skills for Care has called for more publicity about the fact that social care can “transform people’s lives for the better”, and encouraged more platforms to acknowledge that “many people working in care find it a fulfilling vocation.” 

Encouraging new people to become carers

Although 96% of care professionals feel their work makes a difference in people’s lives, the care sector still struggles with a negative image. One of the best ways care homes can drive recruitment is by addressing this image – and, thanks to a new national recruitment campaign, there are plenty of tools available to help you do this. 

However, this encouragement should start early. Career advisors may well provide plenty of information about how to become a nurse or surgeon, but social care gets nowhere near as much early exposure as the healthcare industry does.

By speaking at schools to educate students on what a career in the care sector involves, including information on progression, this will hopefully help to attract carers from a younger age, to fill the skills shortage.

Every day is different in care

Launched by the Department of Health and Social Care in 2018/19, the ‘Every Day is Different’ (EDID) campaign focuses on the variety and the personal satisfaction offered by a career in care. Although the focus is on care workers, the campaign is designed to highlight the range of job roles available in care, educating unaware recruitees of the different opportunities available to them. 

Early results indicate that the Every Day is Different campaign has resulted in a 14% increase in applications for care roles, with job searches containing the word ‘care’ up 97%. Following these results, the DHSC has announced that funding has been approved for a second national wave of Every Day Is Different to run in 2019/20.

To help care home managers in their recruitment efforts, the EDID campaign launched alongside a campaign toolkit for employers, complete with resources such as posters, leaflets and guides. 

Value-based recruitment

Every Day is Different also works to target recruitees with the right values. Known as value-based recruitment, this approach prioritises a person’s values – such as kindness, empathy and a willingness to learn – over standard requirements like experience and qualifications. By putting an emphasis on recruiting the right care workers, care homes can not only recruit new, enthusiastic employees, but they can also start to address the high turnover of existing staff. 

Encouraging people to stay in social care

Communicate career progression

A lack of career progression is a huge driver of staff losses in any industry, and care is no exception. When so much emphasis is put on recruiting new care workers, it’s not always easy to access information about chances for progression beyond this role. 

To avoid losing your best members of staff, it’s important to both internally and externally promote opportunities within your organisation. Whether that’s ongoing personal development plans, specialist roles or management opportunities, show your staff that they can carve out a fulfilling, rewarding career path in care. 

Offer training & development 

In support of helping your staff progress, it’s important to offer employees opportunities for further training and development. Aside from making staff feel valued and ready for career progression, ongoing education and chances to learn have been shown to improve morale, increase motivation and, most importantly, reduce staff turnover.

Eliminate zero-hour contracts 

Because of the staff shortages in care homes, managers often turn to agencies and zero-hour workers to fill the gaps. While this can be an easy way to find last-minute staffers, zero-hour contracts encourage a low sense of commitment, and casual staff often feel less inclined to collaborate with other care workers. And with over one-third of people on zero-hour contracts wishing they had more hours, the emphasis should be on moving casual staff over to full or part-time positions. 

Agency workers are also often met with a steep learning curve when they work in a new care home, which can hamper productivity and slow down other members of staff. Not only do permanent employees work better together, but they also help your organisation run more efficiently. By driving recruitment and eliminating casual contracts, you’ll be able to build a workforce that’s committed to your care home – which, in the long run, will save you a lot of money. 

Support EU staff 

It’s important to make sure EU care workers feel supported and valued. If anyone on your staff is an EU national, they might be wondering about their post-Brexit career options. If you haven’t already, invite them to sit down and have an open, confidential chat with their manager about their concerns or any questions they have. 

If they want to become a UK citizen or apply for settled status, you should support them in the process in any way you can. Give them the time they need to apply, attend any meetings and, where you can, help them complete the necessary paperwork.

Final thoughts 

With the ageing population, high staff turnover in care homes, and the looming threat of Brexit, there’s no doubt that adult social care is facing a staffing crisis. But with new resources, more recruits and a commitment to staff development, we can encourage more passionate people into a career in care. 

To find out more about the latest developments and news from the care industry, check out our blog. If you’d like to know more about our projects or products, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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