The Department of Health and Social Care announces a £120m funding boost for social care as it U-turns on plans to ban care staff movement.
Health bosses said the fund will allow local authorities to increase staffing levels and testing to combat high absence rates.
This comes after a snapshot survey from the National Care Forum (NCF) suggested that some care services were reporting staff absences of more than 50%.
Vic Rayner, executive director of the National Care Forum (NCF) said: ‘Funding is needed first and foremost to maximise the contribution of the existing workforce, enabling provider organisations to address immediate staff pressures.
‘For some providers this will mean paying existing staff to work additional hours, to overstaff services to cope with short notice absences, and to reward and support those who have been at the frontline of this pandemic, without relief, for the last 10 months.
‘In addition, the funding must be available to enable rapid recruitment at a local level which uses the best of the practices developed during this pandemic, utilising technology, rapid training and fast track DBS.
‘The acute challenges we are seeing in hospitals across the country are also happening in social care, right here, right now.
‘It is important that government has recognised the very real staffing crisis affecting social care, and the support on the table today must be kept under constant review, this crisis is not going away anytime soon.’
Professor Martin Green OBE, chief executive of Care England, welcomed the funding but said he is concerned it will be ‘wasted in a spaghetti of bureaucracy’.
‘We want to work with the DHSC to ensure that the Staff Capacity Fund delivers to the front line and is suitably flexible to reflect the crisis whereby providers are struggling with staff illness and absenteeism in the same way as their colleagues in the NHS are.
‘Staff are our most precious resource and we want to do all that we can to support them especially in these incredibly difficult times.
‘We have concerns about the way in which this fund is to be delivered and will be asking the DHSC to keep close tabs on the dissemination in order that funds arrive at the front line where they are needed and that no money is wasted in a spaghetti of bureaucracy.
‘At this time of crisis, every moment and every penny counts.’
Ministers have also promised additional tests for staff who work in more than one care setting ahead of every shift.
This comes after the government was warned that its plan to restrict ‘all but essential’ movement of care staff who worked in multiple settings would result in acute staff shortages.
Vic Rayner said: ‘It is very important that the government has listened to the care sector and rowed back from its previous recommendation to use Care Quality Commission (CQC) regulation to prevent staff movement.
‘It was an ill-thought-through policy proposal, which targeted low paid care workers and created high levels of concern that people would be required to choose between health and care settings at a time when their skills and expertise were desperately needed.
‘Care homes have been doing everything possible to reduce staff movement, and the prospect of enforcement was extremely unhelpful in a sector stretched to near breaking point.’
DHSC said local authorities across the country already have staffing initiatives in place to increase capacity and address staffing issues.
These include care worker staff banks where new recruits are paid during training, re-deployment models where DBS checked staff are trained and moved into operational roles, and end-to-end training and recruitment services.
The new £120m fund will ensure such initiatives can continue, and help other local authorities implement similar schemes.
Health secretary Matt Hancock said: ‘This funding will bolster staffing numbers in a controlled and safe way, whilst ensuring people continue to receive the highest quality of care.
‘Since the start of the pandemic, we have taken steps to protect care homes, including increasing the testing available for staff and residents, providing free PPE, and investing billions of pounds of additional funding for infection control.
‘Help is on the way with the offer of a vaccine, with over 40% of elderly care home residents having already received their first dose.’
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