The Staffing Crisis in Care Homes: Why Finding and Retaining Qualified Staff is Becoming Increasingly Difficult in the UK
The shortage of qualified and experienced care workers is a predominant issue that the UK care industry is currently facing. In particular, the rising demand for competent staff to provide consistent care for growing numbers of care residents has brought attention to the necessity of reliable long-term solutions.
Amongst the numerous challenges faced by care providers in the UK, the central issue stems from a lack of consistent staffing. The scarcity of skilled and experienced care workers has led to high turnover rates, causing an overreliance on agency staff. The COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbated the stress on the care home system due to prolonged periods of lockdown and quarantine, forcing them to close down homes to visitors while isolating residents, which in turn caused an unprecedented amount of stress and burnout upon the staff. Accordingly, the pandemic exposed pre-existing issues within the care home system, which have only continued to grow with the rising economic tensions within the country.
The Root of the Problem
The predominant vulnerabilities of the care industry lie in its lack of skilled and proficient care workers. The growing ageing population in the UK is a key factor in why the care sector is facing a skills crisis. According to a report by the UK Care Workers Charity, there were an estimated 1.5 million care workers in the UK in 2020, and the sector is currently facing a shortfall of over 100,000 workers. The report also found that an additional 1.2 million workers will be needed by 2028 to meet the industry’s rising demand. However, it should be noted that these projected figures could present a different picture compared to reality. Particularly, the unanticipated global pandemic, which has significantly affected the care industry and the overall labour market, could have had a critical impact on the numbers.
Henceforth, the dearth of qualified staff indicates that providers are struggling to meet the needs of those who require care and support. This can create a detrimental impact on both the quality of care and the safety of vulnerable people, whose physical, mental and social well-being depends upon it. The cost of training and employing staff is often prohibitive for care providers, making it difficult to attract and retain qualified staff in the sector. This could be due to the lack of funds to invest in training staff, insufficiency of benefits such as health insurance or retirement plans, strict regulations that determine qualifications, training, and certification and high turnovers that require care homes to train new staff regularly. Although the UK government announced a number of measures to address this issue, such as increasing the national living wage and introducing apprenticeships, however, the problem continues to persist, and care providers are nevertheless struggling to recruit and retain qualified staff and are increasingly turning to temporary and agency staff to fill the gap.
Ways to overcome the struggles of care home staffing
There are several steps that care providers can take to address the staffing problem in the care industry.
1. Increasing pay and benefits
Offering competitive pay and benefits can help attract and retain workers in the care industry. This could be achieved by applying strategies such as:
- conducting regular salary reviews to ensure worker pay rates are competitive with other care providers in the area.
- offering incentives such as sign-on bonuses, retention bonuses, and performance-based bonuses to attract and retain workers.
- implementing comprehensive benefits packages that include health insurance, retirement plans, and paid time off to attract workers.
- increasing minimum wage to retain current employees.
- collaborating with other care providers to negotiate better pay and benefits packages for their employees.
While increasing pay and benefits may come with inevitable costs, i.e., higher expenses, it should be perceived as a necessary investment that could decrease staff turnover, improve the quality of care, and lower recruitment overheads. Moreover, care providers should evaluate the costs and benefits of any and all alterations made to their workers’ pay and benefits packages to ensure that they are sustainable in the long term.
2. Partnering up with care agencies to address staffing issues
Partnering up with care agencies can be an effective way for care providers to retain qualified staff and reduce high turnover rates faced by the care home industry. This could be accomplished by:
- hiring care workers from care agencies to fill temporary vacancies of employees who are on leave, sick, or otherwise unavailable.
- maintaining a pool of qualified and vetted staff via care agencies who are ready to start work on short notice.
- reducing recruitment costs by hiring from care agencies which are relatively less expensive in comparison to recruiting staff directly. Many costs, such as advertising, background checks, and interviewing expenses borne by care providers, could be minimised in this manner.
- using care agencies to acquire specialised staff to meet the specific needs of care providers, such as bilingual or culturally-specific workers.
However, in liaising with care agencies, care providers are tasked with ensuring that the care agency is reputable and provides quality and vetted staff that meet the standards and requirements of the care home and that they comply with relevant regulations. Care providers should also establish clear communication and expectations with the agency to guarantee that the staff provided are meeting the needs of the residents and the care home.
3. Use of technology to improve the efficiency of the working environment
Implementing technology such as electronic health records and scheduling software can help reduce workload and improve the overall working environment. Organisations such as Care Hires offers an ideal solution to this issue, where its neutral vendor platform becomes an innovative and timely key to addressing these needs. This state-of-the-art platform provides an easy-to-use interface for finding, vetting, and hiring the right staff for care homes. With Care Hires, care home managers can easily find qualified workers and recruit in just a few simple clicks, saving time, while ensuring that only the best staff that meet industry standards are hired. Furthermore, this platform offers an efficient scheduling system, by taking into account the availability, skills, and certifications of the workers, which helps to reduce the time and effort spent on organising shifts and allowing the staff to focus on providing care.
4. Recruitment and retention programmes for care workers
Recruitment and retention programmes for care workers are strategies used by care providers to attract and retain qualified staff. These could include:
- offering care workers competitive compensation and benefits, such as health insurance, retirement plans, and opportunities for career advancement.
- providing training and education programmes to help staff acquire the skills and qualifications needed to provide high-quality care. This can also include offering tuition reimbursement, certifications and other incentives.
- developing employee recognition and appreciation programmes that recognise and appreciate the hard work and dedication of their staff, such as employee of the month awards, bonuses, and other incentives.
- enabling employee engagement and empowerment by allowing staff to partake in decision-making processes that encourage them to take ownership of their work, thus increasing job satisfaction and engagement.
- implementing employee retention programmes that aim to keep their staff happy and motivated via mentorship programmes, employee assistance programmes, and other forms of support to help staff cope with the stress and burnout that can come with working in a care home.
It is important to recognise that this is a complex issue that requires a multifaceted approach. Many of the aforementioned solutions may require policy reformulation and systematic changes that neither occur single-handedly nor overnight. Hence, care providers, government bodies, and other stakeholders must work together to ensure that suitable measures are implemented to allow the residents to receive the highest possible level of care required while the care workers too are supported and valued for their vital efforts and contributions.