There are many challenges facing the social care sector – for me, the most significant has long been the recruitment and retention of colleagues. A challenge that has been severely exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Omicron and the high absence and sickness rate that has come with it is, once again, putting intense emotional pressure on our colleagues.
Working through the pandemic had already left many emotional scars. As the country started to resume a more normal way of living, life in care homes stayed very different, with enhanced infection control measures, PPE, regular testing and supporting visits being part of daily life for our frontline teams. Whilst HC-One welcomed these measures to protect our residents and colleagues, they all meant additional work for our colleagues. This has been particularly so for Home Managers – taking an already busy role to a new level. COVID-19 has just added to the strain of a high underlying sector vacancy rate, driven by the impact of Brexit and the rising cost of living. The lasting impact of COVID-19 on colleagues can be seen in the number who have re-evaluated their careers, are retiring early, or who have decided to leave the sector altogether – putting extra pressure on others who have remained. With a tireless commitment to ensure residents continue to receive the best possible care, remaining colleagues have had to pick up all the shortfalls.
To recruit and retain colleagues, we need to change perceptions to attract people to join the care profession, to play a vital role in caring for some of the most vulnerable people in society. There has been an increase in acuity needs of residents and greater skills are required to deal with the complexities of such care needs. The pandemic has reinforced the vital role our carers and care home teams play in our communities; therefore, such roles should be recognised as skilled roles with clear development opportunities for colleagues, along with being appropriately rewarded for the fantastic job they do.
We have recently invested over £17 million in a new pay and reward offer. From early 2022, HC-One care colleagues with two years’ experience will be paid above the Real Living Wage. Our hope is that this announcement will attract and retain talented individuals. This along with a clear development pathway will give colleagues the opportunities to develop, learn and grow in the sector which we hope will really support in retaining experienced, kind and skilled colleagues.
Looking to the future, the publication of the Government’s White Paper was a milestone for the sector. There is still a lot to understand about what this will mean in practice but I am encouraged by the developments so far.
We know the need for sustainable funding and this will play a vital role in ensuring providers are able to attract, reward and retain the kind and caring people we need, to be able to offer the best possible care in our communities. Given the vast number of vacancies across the health and social care system, there needs to be a real urgency on this.
There are still lots of opportunities to improve integration between our health and social care services. We hope that the sector can work closer together to deliver the best outcomes for those in need of our services. This is something we at HC-One are committed to and look forward to working in partnership with stakeholders across the sector, for the benefit of those we are privileged to care for.
Stephen Butterworth is the Executive Director for Operations at HC-One. HC-One is the UK’s leading provider of residential, nursing, dementia and specialist care services, with over 300 homes.