Insights

Mark Raeburn: 5 minute read

Social Care to receive additional money for staffing

A new £120 million fund has been announced for local authorities to boost staffing levels.

The additional funding has been allocated in response to the intense pressure currently being placed on providers due to the new COVID-19 variant. The new money has been made available on top of the already existing £149million grant system to support increased testing in care homes.

The funding was announced at the weekend and will be a boost for overstretched workforces. The additional money is designed to be used to:

  • Provide additional care staff when shortages arise (through isolation periods and sickness absence)
  • Support administrative tasks, saving time for skilled workers to concentrate on care
  • Provide existing staff with the opportunity to take on extra hours, through covering childcare costs

The additional money for the sector is welcome but will it make a difference in the long term or provide a sticking plaster only?

Why now?

The new variant of COVID-19 has resulted in a rapid increase in the number of cases across the country. This has resulted in many workers going off sick or needing to isolate. With a workforce that is stretched as it is, it is a recipe for disaster and the government needed to step in to stabilise the situation.

‘A snapshot survey by the National Care Forum (NCF) has found that individual services are reporting between 11% and 40% staff absence, and a few services are reporting staffing absences of over 50%.’
Care services hit by staff shortages due to COVID-19, localgov.co.uk

Whilst these statistics are systemic of the entire sector, they are accentuated by the fact that most care providers are already overstretched. Some homes are run on the bare minimum numbers of staff as it is. With an additional reduction in staffing levels of up to 50%, it creates concern that even the basic levels of care for residents may be missed.

The additional funding is essential at this time.

Why did it take so long?

There could be many reasons for the arrival of the funding taking so long. These could range from the pessimistic (the government is a Conservative one and therefore concerned only with the wealthy) to the optimistic (the government was monitoring the situation and as soon as it reached a certain level they stepped in). It really does depend on where you stand in terms of your political stance.

Regardless of your opinion as to why it took so long, it is here and will make a difference, even if that is only in the short term. The money will work hand in hand with the testing fund.

Will it be enough to make a difference for a long enough time though, given that there are nearly 20,000 adult care homes in the UK alone. Per home, the additional funding works out at roughly £6,000.

Will it make a difference?

£6,000 per home sounds like a lot of money but if you take that against the costs of overtime, agency staff and childcare costs, it starts to sound less impressive.

Some homes will inevitably need less money from the fund and so others will be left with more, but beyond the short term, the funding will not prove to be enough. Lest we forget that before the global pandemic there were plenty of vacancies within the sector.

‘With more than 100,000 vacancies in the social care sector, recruitment is paramount – but how do social care providers attract the right people to the sector?’
Care to Join us, Care Knowledge

A government campaign to drive more towards care as a career route had been launched but whilst it has improved recruitment, people are still not flocking towards the industry. The global pandemic exposed these weaknesses in terms of staffing numbers for the world to see and now we are paying the price. You could make the argument that this problem has existed for a while and the action from the government was too late, as it is here.

The money is necessary for the short term but in the long term, these problems will still exist, much like they do in the NHS and a long-term plan needs to be agreed.

A lack of strategic thought

Speeding up administration is something which we have been championing for years. If you deem individuals to be working on a virtual frontline, then surely you would want to maximise the time in which they are there? If this were a battle, then you would not leave your top troops on the sideline, whilst they caught up on administration tasks.

The problems of connecting Health and Social Care have been on the agenda for years. No-one has come up with a concrete plan to solve them, merely resorting to throwing money at the problem. Anyone that is in debt knows that you do not borrow more money to solve the problem.

With the current round of funding for providers, it is being provided on the basis that it can be used to ‘Support administrative tasks, saving time for skilled workers to concentrate on care’. This is something that should not be a problem in 2021, as it should have been solved years ago through the correct allocation of funding and choice of technology.

Promises have been made within successive elections to solve Health and Social Care, but as of today, no-one has created lasting change. Boris Johnson even promised on his first day as Prime Minister that he would, ‘fix the social care crisis once and for all’. Once we have reached the Spring and have millions vaccinated against COVID-19, alongside the first few months of post-Brexit life under our belts, what will be the excuse?

The long term outlook

Brexit is finalised, the vaccination programme is in full swing and a national lockdown has started to reduce numbers, and so we are calling for a long term plan for Health and Social Care. They are two sides of the same coin and both need an approach which will see them through the next ten years.

For too long, Health and Social Care have been disparate entities and left to suffer as such. The COVID-19 pandemic has accentuated these issues with regards to staffing. The short term funding from the government will provide some relief but as we move into the Spring and vaccinations have reached a certain level, we need a plan of action.

‘Appearing before the House of Commons Liaison Committee on 13 January, Boris Johnson said: “The pandemic has highlighted the difficulties that the social care sector is in - it clearly needs reform and it needs improvement.

'We will be bringing forward plans later this year'

“But there is also the issue of people being forced to sell their homes to pay for their care and that’s something that we want to address and we will be bringing forward plans later this year.”’
Boris Johnson promises social care reform this year as care homes call for action, carehome.co.uk

The Prime Minister has acknowledged these facts, as per his speech to the House of Commons on the 13th January. He has suggested that plans will be finalised this year, but the big question is, do we believe him?

We hope that Mr. Johnson will address the problems with regards to recruitment and funding between the NHS and Social Care. We hope that he will do what others have been unable to do and that is to provide long-term clarity for the country. We hope that with the end of Brexit, mass vaccinations and the arrival of Spring, he will turn his attention to Health and Social Care. It will provide the Conservative Party with a boost following on from the handling of the current pandemic.

A final thought

The global pandemic has accentuated the problems associated with funding and staffing across Health and Social Care. These issues have plagued the sector for years and the arrival of COVID-19 has exposed the holes within the system.

The current levels of funding will provide relief but across a system already hit with Brexit and a global pandemic, the relief will only be mild. In a similar fashion to applying a plaster to an open wound, it will only offer protection for a short amount of time. It is the personification of the short term.

As we head towards the Spring, the country will have vaccinated millions and gotten used to life outside the EU. At this point in time, we should look to the future, as Health and Social Care need clarity and beyond that, they need team members.