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Resourcing Safely In Care Homes During COVID-19

How Search mitigates the risk of coronavirus infection through temporary staff

In light of recent news regarding the transmission of Covid-19 between care homes by temporary care workers, here at Search Health and Social Care, we want to come firmly on the record to highlight the measures we take to support our clients in keeping both colleagues and residents safe. 

Temporary workers are necessary for care homes to operate safely.

Simply put, care homes cannot operate safely without temporary workers, particularly registered nurses and care assistants, in situ to give that support. So when permanent staff sickness strikes, or there is a sudden admission of new people requiring care, or there is a vacancy that has not yet been recruited to, agencies like Search Healthcare employ a team of skilled individuals to be assigned to give that support.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly as the awful situation in care homes has been brought to the fore, attention has shifted from how the NHS has risen impressively to the challenges in the care sector. Mostly managed by a very large number of private healthcare organisations, it has been an undeniable struggle to keep the spread of infection down, stretching their own resources to care for a considerable number of critically ill residents, leading tragically to a still disputed number of deaths.

Given the circumstances, and government guidance, the health and social care sector has over the past two months witnessed a proportion of its workforce self-isolating or shielding. As such there has been a demand for the flexible workforce to step in.

There is, and should be, a collective national pride in the number of volunteers, and nurses and doctors who came out of retirement, to boost the NHS. Inexorably, agency workers have too been relied on to support a reduced workforce at the very frontline.

A Catch-22 situation

The news today from PHE suggests that agency workers have unknowingly spread Coronavirus between care settings, given that they had been assigned to a number of different services. The Prime Minister reminded us last week that the ‘care home’ lockdown had been in place two weeks prior to the national one that followed. However, this could not be expected to stop the need for the flexible workforce provided by agencies. It was a Catch-22 situation and lessons must be learned.

How we support and safeguard  our care home clients and temporary workforce

Search Health and Social Care has been quick to respond. We have been working with clients to provide solutions to mitigate the risks since the very early days of the lockdown. Recognising the risks of cross-infection has been a concern from the outset, and throughout the pandemic, we have not  just worked with our own workforce, but also with other recruitment agencies who support our clients alongside us.

We hope that the lessons learned, and those that are still to be learned, will redefine the relationship between care services and the agencies that support them.

Our advice for resourcing safely in care homes 

Collaborative working is key, and although what has happened cannot be changed, we have advice to offer:

  1. Engage a minimum number of agencies

Although some workers are registered with more than one agency, generally different agencies employ a dedicated workforce. Reducing the number of agencies that you work with not only increases the engagement from them, but also the number of workers that are being asked to fulfil vacant shifts. It will also invariably mean the agencies you work with will develop a greater understanding of the service and the people in its care.

  1. Identify and ask for specific workers in the first instance

Generally speaking, agency workers do not wish to be assigned to many different services. Both the worker and the service benefit from the familiarity with service users. Although they may prefer a flexible contract rather than a permanent one, workers invariably prefer to give all their available hours to one service.

  1. Insist on seeing profiles

Agencies have a duty of care to ensure all their workforce is compliant in line with the standards expected by the care industry. Training should be regularly updated and should include infection control, food hygiene and health and safety, alongside other mandatory modules. Search Healthcare has also provided information specifically concerning PPE and understanding COVID-19. Agencies should be able to provide this information.  

  1. Share up to date information about cases in your services

Every worker has their own personal circumstances, including their own health condition and those of their families, that has caused them to be cautious of working in services where there are known cases. Knowing the status of a care environment will affect the selection of staff to be assigned.  

  1. Speak to agencies about how they are ensuring their staff are tested

We have registered all our workers onto the Employers Referral Portal to allow them to be tested and encouraged everyone to take part. As some clients are insisting that the results shared by text message, are inspected on arrival, we are reviewing our guidance daily.  We also strongly re-inforce the need to self-isolate when necessary.

  1. Plan in advance

It is not always possible to foresee when there will be a sudden staff shortage, particularly for last minute absences. However being able to share rotas with your agency partner in advance- and as far in advance as possible- means that specific workers can be secured before they are offered other work. However if a short notice need arises, insist the regular workers are asked first.

If that is not an option, If you need to use another permanent team member to fill the shift, one of the regular agency workers can backfill a different shift.

  1. Integrate agency staff with permanent staff

Search Health and Social Care promote regular feedback from our clients to ensure that any concerns are immediately addressed. We also listen to our workers’ concerns, and now more than ever, encourage honest and open relationships. If there is an ‘us and them’ culture within the service or a reliance on agency staff to take on all the tougher tasks, agency workers will be cautious to return. We have seen that when there are good strong relationships, there is much more give and take.

  1. Agree Management Information

If you use a lot of agency workers or have a particularly large service, work with your recruitment agency partners to limit the numbers of different workers assigned. We have found it is good practice to agree a specified number to aim for.

Good recruitment agencies should have the internal systems to provide their clients with up to date information to allow them to monitor the risks.

We are told that the worst has past but constantly being reminded of the dangers of a second peak. We believe that together, we can rise to future challenges and ensure that care homes are safeguarded.

Contact us today so we can help you plan your workforce and mitigate that risk.