Foreign Recruits Sought As Unvaccinated Carers Leave “Exhausted” Workforce

Multiple staffing problems in adult social care in East Sussex were laid bare in a recent meeting of the County Council’s People Scrutiny Committee.

According to Debbie Endersby, Head of Supply Management in the Council’s Learning Disabilities department, a number of care providers across the county have been reporting “a pretty exhausted workforce” and are “flagging really critical issues in recruitment and retention of care staff”. 

CREDIT: Andrea Piacquadio/Pexels

Central government has imposed a mandatory requirement that all frontline staff who are employed by or visit care homes must have received double Covid-19 jabs by 11th November. But as at early September around 14% of the existing staff had either refused, or at least failed to receive, a first dose of a vaccine. Any first inoculation after 16th September would be too late to be repeated before the November cut-off date.

Ms Enderby said that a small percentage were medically exempt from vaccination – whom Mark Stainton, director of the Council’s Adult Social Care Department, confirmed could be retained – and several had been persuaded to change their minds after individual one-to-one talks. However, she admitted that some care providers, particularly nursing homes, are being left with groups of staff who are adamant, for “a range of reasons”, that they will not be vaccinated. A number of qualified registered nurses are “indicating they will be leave the profession”. She described care home managers as “incredibly anxious” about this.

Besides the vaccination avoiders, Ms Enderby also spoke of others  choosing to leaving care work for alternative employment – “Amazon warehouses, etc” –  because of “the pressures they feel they are facing in supporting people with increasingly complex care needs”.

Overseas recruitment

By way of longer term replacement, she reported that a number of the larger providers in East Sussex are looking at overseas recruitment, focussing particularly on Albania and Romania. “There’s a complex process they need to go through to do that”, she said, “but because of the demand they’re putting a lot of their resources into thinking how to recruit overseas as well as continuing to advertise for staff locally”.

Mr Stainton said that 25 per cent of the population of East Sussex is over the age of 65, “and it’s going to increase”. The Council had budgeted for this, and was aiming to keep a level use of residential and nursing care while increasing home care – keeping people in their own homes to live independently for as long as possible. 

A report submitted to the People Committee headed “Developing Care Markets” calculates that the number of referrals for general residential care actually reduced during 2020/21 – Covid outbreaks in care homes over this period are likely to have been a factor. However, it was balanced by demand “more focussed towards nursing care and support for people with dementia”.

Loss of beds

Moreover, the report revealed that between January 2020 and August this year 19 care homes closed with the loss of 428 beds, the majority of which were providing “good” services as rated by the CQC (Care Quality Commission). During the same period 206 new beds were provided, but of these only 68 were available to be taken at rates which the Council would cover.

Cllr Wendy Maples commented that, with job vacancies in the UK running at over a million and average rates of pay in the adult care sector being offered at below the National Living Wage, Brexit had made things worse. “Why are we looking at Romania and Albania?” she asked. “And why is it that this area is not an attractive prospect and is adding to the number of job vacancies?”

Mr Stainton responded that there is “an incredibly high level of employment” both locally and nationally, with “a number of competitors for jobs with similar wages. We do have a hospitality industry down here with hotels, restaurants and supermarkets. There are more jobs than people to go around, and there is no getting around the fact that, no matter how rewarding a care job is, it’s hard work”. The Council was trying to “incentivise” staff in the care sector and improve terms and conditions – “but we simply cannot recruit enough people locally to work in this area.”

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