The recent staff shortages in care homes have been well documented. The pandemic has meant staff have increasingly had to self isolate and have suffered sickness themselves, causing an intolerably high increase in absence across the sector. What has come to light more recently however, is that the CQC is investigating concerns that staff with COVID-19 have been asked to come into work, even after a COVID-19 positive test result.
The on-going investigation suggests some care home residents and, of course, care home staff might have been put at risk; whilst those with COVID-19 continued to work. It is believed the CQC is investigating concerns in several councils across England, although fortunately less than 10 possible incidents have been identified so far. The CQC issued a joint statement with the Department of Health and Social Care and Public Health England warning all care providers and settings in England;
“under no circumstances should staff who have tested positive for Covid-19, regardless of whether they are displaying symptoms or not, work in a care setting.”
The statement goes on to say, “where the CQC has concerns, it will take swift regulatory action. Where providers are facing critical staffing shortages, local system partners, should work together to ensure those providers can maintain continuity of care for their users of service.”
It is believed the CQC is investigating the concerns across the county to understand how widespread the problem could be because there was a suggestion some local authorities may have been aware of the practice. Even the suggestion that such a practice may have been going on in some care homes, outlines the very real staffing difficulties they must have been facing. Nadra Ahmed, the chief executive chairman of the National Care Association which represents the voice of the independent care sector; said
“the impact of staffing shortages was as high as a ratio of 70% in some cases and operators are bringing in friends and family to try to cover shifts.”
The National Care Forum, recently found rates of absence varying from 11% to over 50%, with some care providers refusing new admissions from hospitals and using agency staff to cope. This was a huge increase in absence rates from November when they were only at 7%.
We could see an upsurge in claims from residents and staff, if it subsequently transpires that greater numbers of staff were working with COVID-19.
A ray of light is offered with the Government’s announcement this morning that a COVID vaccine has been offered to all eligible care home residents. A future reduction of infection rates within the sector may ease the burden of staff shortages. From a wider perspective, it is hoped that lessons will be learnt, so that services provided by health and social care providers will be better recognised and valued by society as a whole and that long term solutions can be found to the staffing shortages exacerbated by the pandemic.