As the care sector waits for government to respond to its unsustainable staffing problems, digital technologies offer a route for providers to ease the pressure on employees and budgets
Social care is in the midst of a serious labour crisis. Brexit has restricted the supply of employees while at the same time, Covid has massively increased the demands on staff. The result is 120,000 vacancies and a crushing workload for social care staff. Research by Deputy into 11.5 million shifts worked by 350,000 UK workers revealed that since the pandemic began, care sector staff have worked an average of 86 hours a week between January 2019 and May 2021.
The research supported the findings of the Health and Social Care Committee report, which described care staff burnout as an emergency that puts the entire sector at risk. Former Minister for Care Services Phil Hope, Chair of the Future Social Care Coalition, noted that the research “shows the urgent need for investment in the social care sector, to deliver workforce reform and fair pay and working conditions. It cannot be right that people in social care positions are so vastly overworked and underpaid despite their heroic efforts during the pandemic.”
The staffing crisis has had a knock-on impact on both the quality of care that providers are able to deliver and on costs, as more expensive agency workers are drafted in to fill vacancies. It is a time bomb that threatens the future of the care sector.
How can such an urgent, large-scale issue be resolved?
Government has a central role to play. As Phil Hope has said, “It is time for the government to respect, reward and regulate, to support all those working on the ‘forgotten frontline’ by bringing forward as a matter of urgency a Social Care People Plan to mirror the NHS People Plan.”
At the same time, there are levers that care providers themselves can pull to relieve the burden on staff and thereby improve the service they provide. One is to offer different working options to broaden the pool of recruits. With the ability to work part time or to a more flexible work pattern, more people can be attracted to the sector.
Another approach is to bring in tools that minimise the time staff spend on admin, so their precious working hours can be focused on providing high-quality care. Something as simple as replacing paper-based systems for time and attendance with smartphone-based technology can have a huge impact, saving hours of time for managers who draw up rotas and helping care workers to manage their own shifts more easily.
Today’s technology also makes it possible for providers to introduce “smart workforce planning”, which can reduce the need for costly agency staff. When shift schedules are entirely digitised, it’s much easier for managers to see who is available, so they are better able to call on employees rather than agencies to fill gaps. And workforce management software is becoming ever more sophisticated, for example using artificial intelligence to predict how many employees are needed for specific tasks, and automating schedules to deliver the best service.
Bringing in these tools and technologies need not be expensive for cost-pressured care providers. With app- and cloud-based solutions now readily available, it’s possible to transition from paper-based operations to the latest digital tech quickly, and without major investment.
It’s likely to take some time for the government to put in place the much-needed “people plan” for social care employees. But providers can start to tackle the staffing crisis right now, by using digital tools to take the pressure off staff and help them provide the best quality of care.
David Kelly is the General Manager for EMEA at Deputy – the workforce management app that simplifies scheduling, pay, and workplace communication. With more than 20 years’ experience in SaaS, technology and transformation, and 1000+ tech led change projects
David has witnessed first hand the ‘’do’s and don’ts’’ of successful deployments, which extend well beyond the technology itself.