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Bristol’s social care staff shortages ‘worst they have ever been’

Poor pay, Brexit, competition from the likes of Amazon and increasingly unaffordable housing mean some care providers are struggling to provide care.

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Staff shortages in social care are the worst they have ever been, and the crisis is set to deepen as we head into winter, according to a top Bristol official.

Head of adult social care at Bristol City Council, Stephen Beet, said some care homes and home care providers were struggling to provide care, as the sector competes with the likes of Amazon for workers. 

And care homes are expected to lose even more staff when new rules requiring them to be vaccinated against Covid-19 come into effect next month, he said.

“It’s really hit us in social care over the last two months, quite suddenly actually,” Beet told Bristol’s health leaders on October 20. 

“We now find ourselves in the worst place we’ve ever been in terms of numbers of vacancies,” he told the city’s health and wellbeing board. 

“It’s a big challenge going into winter and it’s not all going to sort itself out in the next few weeks, especially when we know that there’s an increase in Covid cases, but we’re working really closely with the [adult social care] sector to support them.”

Beet said vacancy rates in the social care sector climbed from around 7% to about 10% after lockdown, as jobs with better pay and less stress became available.

“The end of lockdown means that other services are offering work, so we’ve got much greater competition from places like Amazon and big supermarkets where pay is better, or there’s greater incentive,” he said. 

“Brexit’s another factor. And generally just poor pay and lack of development opportunities perceived in the care sector that’s not drawing people into it. And it’s hard work. These are tough jobs.

“We’ve had in Bristol a number of home care providers handing back packages [of care]. We’ve had packages that we’ve not been able to source, and that’s across home care and other settings, in community-based organisations, some care homes as well.”

A council spokesperson explained after the meeting that a shortage of care assistants had meant some home care providers were unable to complete their rounds until they pooled their resources to fill the gaps. A recruitment drive is about to get underway to find more care assistants, the spokesperson said.

Meanwhile, the demand for home care is growing as more people become increasingly immobile as they wait for hip and knee replacements, Beet said.

In what has become a vicious cycle, they sit on long waiting lists for elective surgery while those lucky enough to have had their operations wait in hospital for a home care package to become available so they can be discharged, freeing up a hospital bed for the next person on the waiting list. 

Key workers leaving Bristol due to cost of housing

The news on staff shortages comes as a council meeting was told that key workers are being forced to quit vital jobs and move away from Bristol because of unaffordable house prices.

In the last fortnight a social care professional had to leave their role at the local authority after just four months and move to where property is cheaper, along with their partner who is also a social worker, members heard.

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Former Green councillor Clive Stevens told overview and scrutiny management board members: “In a nutshell if we don’t have enough affordable homes, the city won’t have access to enough key workers to be able to deliver some of the council’s corporate strategy goals.

“Last week a council adult social care professional handed in their notice,” he said. “They had been working for the council for just four months and were to be an important part of the team. They have a partner, a social worker.

“Their reason for both leaving so soon was they couldn’t afford to live in Bristol.

“They have moved to where property is cheaper. A household of two working people, not totally full time, can’t afford to live here.”

Mandatory jabs for care workers

As for care homes, they are set to lose more staff when new government regulations requiring care home workers to be double jabbed against Covid take effect on 11 November.

“It varies between five to ten per cent of that workforce still not being vaccinated,” Beet said. “So we will be losing staff in the care home sector. We’re monitoring that really closely in Bristol.”

The Department of Health and Social Care has estimated that its mandatory vaccination policy could result in the loss of anywhere between 17,000 and 70,000 staff from the roughly 570,000 working in care homes registered with the Care Quality Commission.

Beet said the council was doing what it could in the short-term to help the adult social care sector with recruitment and retention, but that, long-term, a “reimagining” of the care model was needed.

“We need to think differently because we’re not going to get the workforce we need to meet the current demands that we have,” he said.

Cabinet member for adult social care Helen Holland, who chairs the cross-sector, multi-agency, health and wellbeing board, said: “If this doesn’t make the case for why we need to concentrate more on the prevention end [of care]…then I don’t know what does.

“Terms and conditions are improving for people [in the health and social care employment sector] and they should, because if us clapping for carers means anything then we’ve got to translate it into real action.”

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