Fiona Millington, Chief Nurse at Florence, believes that the social care sector needs to evolve with its workers, offering flexibility, freedom and choice, if it is to survive the current staffing crisis…
The adult social care sector is in the midst of a staffing crisis. In recent years, the number of registered nurses working in the care sector has plummeted by 20 per cent, leading to a number of nursing home closures.
The crisis has been compounded by uncompetitive wages and poor working conditions, leaving nursing and care settings unable to recruit and retain good-quality staff. What’s more, over 100,000 of the 1.4 million people who make up the social care workforce come from the EU. In a post-Brexit landscape it will inevitably be harder to recruit EU nationals to such roles.
The wider impact of a shrinking workforce
Last month, Skills for Care released its annual State of the adult social care sector and workforce report which highlighted the current shape of employment in the sector. With an estimated turnover rate of 30.8%, approximately 440,000 directly employed staff working in adult social care have left over the course of the year. With a workforce shrinking before our eyes, the knock-on effect is very real – we see many care and nursing home settings having to close, with provision waning just as demand increases thanks to an ageing population.
While there are wide-ranging problems to be addressed in our social care system, the people who deliver the care are at the very heart of it. If we are to solve the workforce crisis, we need to deliver a sustainable long-term funding settlement for social care and a transformation of the social care workforce model, to help ensure high-quality work for care workers, and high-quality care for those who need it.
Nurses and carers, permanent or temporary, fulfil a vital role, supporting people and their loved ones during times when they need it most. The roles require kindness, compassion and clinical expertise, factors that all contribute to delivering quality patient care and the effective management of the clinical environment including nursing and residential care home settings.
With less overall certainty in the jobs market, and a shift towards the gig economy model, it will come as no surprise that many nurses and carers are looking to work more flexibly.
Putting the worker in control
Recruitment and retention difficulties in the social care sector are not new. However, giving nurses and carers the opportunity to be more in control of their working lives can undoubtedly help providers attract new talent in the current climate – and will encourage the knowledgeable, experienced nurses and carers who have dedicated years of their lives to caring for others to stay with the profession.
Shift work comes with the territory of working in social care, and for many, it provides a considerable bonus and allows greater flexibility. But all too often, this flexibility is not at the disposal of the employee. Whether you’re a senior nurse or an experienced carer with years of working with patients and residents, or still in training and at the beginning of your career in the sector, you should be in the driving seat of your work schedule.
Care workers are an essential part of the care pathway, regardless of how temporary their employment needs are. So, it is even more crucial that we ensure care workers have the freedom to easily manage their work schedule, and select upcoming shifts that work for them. If they want to work on Christmas Day, they should be able to; if they don’t, then they should be empowered to say no.
Continuity of care
Skills for Care estimates that nearly eight per cent of roles in adult social care are unfilled, creating approximately 122,000 vacancies at any one time. With an industry consensus that high vacancy and turnover rates make it more difficult to achieve and maintain good standards of care, it’s important that the social care sector looks towards flexible working practices which can help support this.
Elderly and vulnerable people need continuity and security, as do the staff caring for them. Nurses and carers are driven by a desire to help people and create and maintain meaningful relationships with the people they look after. Platforms like Florence give staff the ability to let staff re-book shifts in the same home, giving them time and space to care and build relationships – which is critical when delivering care that supports the development of individuals, particularly those with dementia, for example.
By booking their own shifts, temporary nurses and carers set their own schedule and take control of their financial and professional lives. They can also sample different workplaces, meet new people and broaden their professional experience.
When it comes to creating work-life balance, nurses and care workers are beginning to see that that there’s perhaps more to life than shift work.
By highlighting the benefits of a flexible schedule that fits around the worker, yet still provides high-quality care for those in need, we could go a long way in tackling the staff shortages in social care today.