Opinion

Can you meet care’s biggest challenge?

Care sector leaders now face their biggest ever challenge: dealing with unprecedented demand.

Over half a million people are now waiting for care assessments, reviews, or care to begin,  the Association of Adult Social Care Services (ADASS) recently reported. But the shortage of care workers means that almost 170,000 hours a week of home care was not delivered during the first quarter of 2022 – a seven-fold increase since Spring 2021.

I’m sorry and sad that we can’t provide care to everyone who needs it. But realistically the mismatch between care demand and supply is a systemic problem that only government can solve. Nevertheless, each provider must deal with it.

How can we face this challenge?

First, you need a company-wide strategy, emanating from the top. It’s unfair and risky to leave branches and franchisees to deal with this problem on their own. They and their care teams will struggle and could burn out. This potentially compromises care quality. Ultimately disillusioned carers, and perhaps franchisees, will leave, which means wasted training costs and problems in recruiting replacements.  It also risks giving you a bad reputation.

Maintain your standards

It may be tempting to simply take on more clients, offer 15-minute care calls and overload your care team, but this is a high-risk strategy. Pile ’em high, sell ‘em cheap may work well some retail sectors but it’s not sustainable in the care industry. Poor quality care puts clients at risk, diminishes your reputation among clients and carers (not to mention regulators) and ultimately threatens company survival.

Practical ways forward

We have found it useful to set a client to carer ratio and to ensure that individual offices maintain that. It should be realistic and allow for the delivery of high-quality care. Yes, this may limit expansion, but slow, steady growth, while maintaining high standards, is safer.

Where franchisees do not stick to that ratio, investigate the problem. Once identified a specific solution can be applied.

Shortage of carers

This is likely to be the most common issue. Ensure your pay rates are competitive and show respect for staff to increase recruitment and retention.

On recruitment, focus on referrals from existing carers. This is likely to attract higher quality staff who stay with you for 15% to 20% longer, according the Neil Eastwood, author of Saving Social Care and designer of the Care Friends app. This makes it easier for carers to refer friends and earn rewards. It delivers better results than ads on recruitment sites and is faster than traditional referral schemes.

Retention

Treat your carers like professionals. Consult them on care issues and offer career progress opportunities and access to further training.

Nurture them with weekly support calls to ensure that they have no issues that could escalate, so you can resolve problems before they turn into resignations. Is someone struggling financially, or have they got issues at home? Ask what you can do to help, or just to be there to talk to.

Little things mean a lot. Send hand-written thank you notes when someone does something extra, send birthday cards, and put on regular social events for your team. Build a caring culture, so the care role becomes more than ‘just a job’.

Source the right type of work

Sadly, most care providers can no longer afford to take on local authority work. This is a problem that only governments can solve. For Walfinch, private clients are the way forward. This is not about making money – it’s about respect for staff and clients and delivering continuity of care.

Amrit Dhaliwal is the CEO of home care provider Walfinch, which has 26-plus franchised offices across the country.

Edel Harris

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