According to the State of Health and Social Care in England report, numbers of unfilled care jobs are rising month on month, from 6% in April to more than 10% in September. A recent survey by UNISON found that 97% of care staff have reported staff shortages; findings from this survey and a separate study from the National Care Forum (NCF) prompted UNISON and NCF to join forces in lobbying health and social care secretary Sajid Javid to boost care worker pay and provide a retention bonus for existing staff.
Care providers are facing an incredible challenge to retain valuable team members, who are depleted and under pressure to maintain standards, with less resource than before. Indeed, a financial boost for the sector would be welcomed to aid recruitment and retention, but is it a long term, sustainable solution?
At Cornerstone Healthcare, we are fortunate to be able to independently offer financial recognition to our staff. In October we announced a new ‘golden career’ bonus scheme for nurses, offering 5% of annual salary including overtime, which is completely uncapped. This is in addition to a 5% pay rise for day nurses, and an 8% pay rise for night nurses. The latest pay increase puts the average nursing salary at Cornerstone at around £46k, compared to around 28k for a similar role within the NHS.
For many providers it is frankly impossible to offer similar salary uplifts and bonuses, which will inevitably impact staffing levels. But even if they were given a financial boost from the government, this alone would not fill the 120,000 live vacancies. A more layered approach is needed, urgently.
Reduced bureaucracy around visas and immigration
Government announced the long- awaited news that care workers would be added to the Home Office shortage occupation list in December 2021. This has been welcomed by the sector, but it is now important that the bureaucracy and complexity which exists in the immigration system is minimised so that providers of all sizes can reap the benefits urgently.
Government backed recruitment campaign
The Minister for Care recently announced that £192m is available for providers to recruit new staff, but not from overseas, and although it can be used on agency staff, providers are still penalised by CQC for using them.
Cornerstone Healthcare Group has recently gone through the lengthy application process for this funding, via two separate Local Authorities (due to the location of our homes in Surrey and Hampshire), and although we’re fortunate to have initiatives like our bonus scheme to help retain our 350 staff members, we are still impacted by the sector wide staff shortages. We received around £2000 for use across our entire group, which is highly unlikely to have a significant impact on recruitment.
Seeking help unconditionally
A volunteer emergency task force has been mooted as a potential solution to the crisis. Yet seeking help can attract scrutiny from local commissioners who express concern that providers cannot cope, often stopping referrals until staffing levels increase. Whilst their concern for patient care is appropriate, deterring providers from seeking assistance will be detrimental to patients in the longer term.
No single solution
Care jobs are often seen as a low skilled, low pay with unsociable hours. Brexit and the pandemic have compounded these issues and placed unprecedented pressure on staffing levels. That’s why we went above and beyond to reward our staff, but we know our ability to do this puts us in the minority. If pay were to be improved across the sector, it would go some way to improving perceptions of care careers, but the impact is likely to be longer term, and the sector needs help right now.
We stand with other providers in calling for an urgent review of policy so that staff can be recruited with minimal limitations, and help can be sought without negative consequences. If action isn’t taken, thousands will go without the care they need this winter; a situation providers are all desperate to avoid.