Whilst there have, of course, been challenges, some things have been really positive during this crisis. Our carers and managers have stepped up and shouldered responsibility, and I actually think our service now is more dynamic and robust because of the changes we’ve made and the things we’ve learnt in managing Covid-19.
Our work is difficult, but in a different way to before. It’s a daily job following up on both staff and service users being poorly, on top of the usual level of care. More people are going in and out of hospital and discharges are rightly much quicker, so we now have to respond more quickly to bring people home. Everyone is working together to make this happen.
Our cloud-based IT system was already allowing our carers to work remotely but it’s really come into its own now in enabling us to organise and support our staff and service users.
The wellbeing and morale of our carers and clients has been a priority for us. We use Skype and Zoom to catch up with carers, particularly those who need extra support. All our carers have been amazing. They are doing a tough job every day looking after our service users and, in turn, we need to look after them.
We’re also busy contacting service users as some are lonely because the regular contact they are used to from family members or day centres has stopped. We are trying to fill that gap, picking up the phone for a chat, making them feel cared for still. We’ve been doing shopping and delivering food parcels and comfort packs, and activity packs for the children we support.
The recognition and appreciation of what social care staff do has massively increased during the crisis. We’ve been overwhelmed by people’s kindness, from food donations to gestures of thanks such as the gentleman behind a carer in the supermarket queue who insisted on paying for her shopping. Our local bus company featured two of our carers’ pictures on the side of a special ‘Harrogate Heroes’ bus, which made us all feel valued.
PPE is the biggest challenge for the health and social care sector at the moment. At Continued Care, we spend hours each week sourcing PPE. It’s out there, but increased demand has affected the supply and the price. A mask used to cost 20p or less, and now it’s £1. We need to buy in bulk, so that’s a significant increase.
But it’s not just PPE that’s difficult to find. Our carers are wanting to change their uniforms more often now but many of our suppliers aren’t making uniforms anymore; they are making hospital gowns instead.
Testing is one of the most crucial things that the Government can support us with now and in the future. The drive-in testing introduced at the end of March has been extremely effective, although it would have been useful earlier that month. We can’t turn the clock back on that but what we can do now is to ensure that the immunity test is approved and rolled out as soon as possible for all frontline health and social care workers. For us, that would be a game changer. It could alter how we manage lockdown and how our staff feel about supporting our most vulnerable service users.
For a long time we’ve talked about the reform of the social care system, and this current crisis only highlights that. Moving forward this has to be a priority. I don’t think the issue with recruitment and retention is just about pay; it’s also about reward and recognition. We’ve seen an increase in job enquiries with us during the crisis. People are re-assessing what they want to do, what value their job has and how safe their current job is.