M. Suhail Mirza discusses
As a nation, we’ve shown true British grit against the coronavirus pandemic. But while the country clapped in unity with humble gratitude for key workers and those in the NHS, the true effects and impact of what people on the frontline were facing every day, were barely known. Not least for those working within social care.
Care homes have been a major focus in the press throughout the pandemic and many residents have tragically been impacted by Covid. However, less thought and media coverage has been given to the people who are caring for residents. Nor for the domiciliary workers who enter the homes of vulnerable clients every day. Workers who are notably low paid and with little career progression yet carryout arduous tasks for long stretches of time.
In 2020, The Kings Fund reported that “The toll of the first months of the pandemic on staff’s mental and emotional wellbeing has been significant.” Given that we are almost one year into this pandemic, the question must be asked, to what extent has that toll now taken?
A serious issue at the beginning of the pandemic was the extreme shortage of PPE equipment available to staff. The situation was so alarming, that health leaders said frontline workers were being forced to 'risk their lives', with reports that staff were facing disciplinary action for raising concern.
Seven organisations including UNISON, the Royal College of Midwives, GMB, Unite and TUC, jointly called on the government to urgently increase the supply of PPE to staff in the NHS and social care.
It is now clear that the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) for frontline workers has become a crisis within a crisis. Workers are being exposed to unreasonable and unnecessary risk by the ongoing failure to provide key workers with adequate PPE...They are risking their own health and safety for us.”
“We must be clear what that means. Those who are subject to prolonged and direct exposure to the virus – such as health and social care professionals – are risking their lives.”
Global research suggests the need to support people to cope with wellbeing may last for many years following a pandemic. The Health Foundation states that “health and social care workers have an increased risk of adverse mental health outcomes, including post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.”
Why we should care
The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines good mental health as ‘a state of wellbeing in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.’
Supporting staff to achieve optimum mental health makes good business sense. But more than that, as an employer who cares, it’s the right thing to do. Good health boosts productivity, increases engagement and significantly reduces the costs related to taking no action, such as sick days and hiring costs. ‘Closing the Gap’, a 2019 report by The Kings Fund, The Health Foundation and Nuffield Trust states that, within the social care sector “workforce problems have a direct impact on people’s care.” The effects of which could be fatal.
Burn out pre-pandemic
In January 2020, CV Library reported that two-thirds of social care professionals are on the brink of burn out. Tellingly, within the first few months of the pandemic the levels of sickness absences in social care had tripled according to Skills for Care.
To further add to the stress put upon workers, there were already major staff shortages, alongside high staff turnover. In 2019, the Skills for Care report, State of the Adult Social Care Sector in England, highlighted that 7.8% of roles in the sector were unfilled, equating to 122,000 FTE vacancies. While staff turnover levels were more than 30%.
This forgotten sector was already at breaking point and at high risk of a staffing crisis. Now, the issue is so critical that in the summer of 2020 the DHSC select committee launched an inquiry into burnout in the health and social care workforce.
So, what next?
The pandemic has had a severe and detrimental impact to the health and wellbeing of large proportions of the workforce. However, staff within social care have been asked to provide increasingly high-intensity care for people with complex needs in extremely dangerous conditions. These same workers were already fatigued and at risk of burn-out long before Coronavirus hit our shores.
This is a critical yet precarious time for leaders within social care situations. While the difficulties surrounding PPE equipment has been well documented, there is also the omnipresent issue of escalating staff shortages. Encouraging people to join a workforce that has been presented as unsafe for the past year is no easy task.
In February 2020, UKHCA's CEO Dr Jane Townson spoke of some of the challenges already facing adult social care in the UK, noting inadequate funding and staff shortages as major issues. However, she says the dedication and devotion workers in this sector have is exceptional.
Staff turnover is around 40% which is very high, and much of that occurs in the first 6 months. But there is unbelievable commitment if you can get people over that first few months.”
At the time of writing many of those working in this sector will have received their first dose of the vaccine against Covid-19. Yet there is still much to be done to ensure adult social care is a safe space that attracts and retains people.
Thought leader and HR expert Josh Bersin has been studying the impact of Coronavirus within the workplace. He believes it is vital for organisations to communicate and reinforce the changes they are making to create a resilient, safe, and sustainable workplace. A shift in focus to the health and wellbeing of the individuals caring for the vulnerable is crucial. To care for your people, is to care for clients.
Listen here as Bersin shares his thoughts and findings with Winningtemp on how you can best support and guide your people to good mental health and wellbeing through the pandemic and beyond.