Care services struggling with staff absences of more than 50% are having to reject new hospital and community referrals, a survey by the National Care Forum (NCF) reveals.
Care providers across the country have been hit hard by staff absences associated with high levels of community transmission of coronavirus.
In a snapshot survey carried out by the NCF, care providers shared what was happening on the ground in their most challenged service.
The NCF said the survey findings provide a clear and loud alarm and is calling on the government to take note of just how hard coronavirus is hitting on the frontline, with services reporting between 11% and 40% staff absence, with a few services reporting staffing absences of more than 50%.
The survey found that providers are under huge pressure and, in the very short- term, are having to run services through a combination of offering extra overtime to other staff, bringing in staff from other services and not accepting new referrals or admissions from hospital or the community.
Where absences cannot be resolved in-house, care providers were using agency staff, however, this is not a sustainable position and must be addressed before social care is overwhelmed.
According to the survey, absences were caused by a combination of coronavirus positive cases being picked up by PCR testing, self-isolation following contact tracing, shielding and childcare responsibilities.
Vic Rayner, executive director of the NCF said: ‘It is essential that the government takes heed of this early warning signal that care services are under immense pressure.
‘Staff in care services have been at the very front line of this battle against COVID-19 for over 11 months, and are shattered both physically and emotionally.
‘In the midst of this, individuals and teams are stepping up once again to flex and cover large-scale staff absences brought about by a combination of testing, self-isolation, shielding and childcare. They are undoubtedly heroes, but asking them to do this over and again is not sustainable.
‘While the recent focus has been on the pressure being experienced by hospitals and the NHS, this is a red flag that pressure is mounting in the social care sector too.
‘We must pay close attention to this as social care is integral to the overall system. If people cannot be supported to leave hospital, whether that is by moving into a care home or having care at home, then the whole system will fail.
‘NHS saves lives, but so does social care, and it must be properly supported to ensure that it can play its vital role in making the whole system work for communities.
‘Action is needed now to ensure social care services can provide the care and support so desperately needed.
‘Additional capacity needs to be resourced and built into care services to allow for full staffing to be available in the light of short-term absences of the nature that services are seeing during this period of exceptionally high community transmission.
‘Vaccination for care workers must be delivered at pace, and we need prioritised turnaround of testing from care homes. Every day that we turn a blind eye to the challenges facing social care, our chances of addressing the equally pressing challenges in health care are diminished.
‘The time for action is now.’
The Department of Health and Social Care has been contacted for comment.
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