Government intervention could help solve care industry’s retention struggles, says home care provider Fairhope
Among the Conservatives’ pledges ahead of the historic December general election victory, there was a visible focus on adding nurses to the NHS workforce through better retention measures. However, one homecare provider believes that government intervention must also extend to the social care industry, where the very same retention problems are apparent.
The exact promises outlined in the Conservative manifesto include adding 50,000 nurses to the workforce in England by 2024-25, through a combination of training more staff, recruiting from overseas and better retention of existing staff.
With regards to retention, the Conservatives believe that better policies to ensure fewer leave the NHS could equate to 18,500 extra staff. Its aims are to lower the turnover rate with more flexible working hours, enhancement of professional development and encouraging highly qualified staff to return.
However, the very same retention issues trouble the social care industry. Although it is unrealistic to expect similar measures to plans for the NHS to be enacted, Kyrsty Fairchild, managing director of Poole based homecare provider, Fairhope, believes that more can still be done.
For Fairchild, these centre around incentives within the care industry and addressing how the profession is perceived.
Fairchild told The Parliamentary Review: “One of the greatest challenges in social care today remains recruitment and retention. As an occupation, care work is often seen as a career with little or no chance of upward mobility.
“Staff shortages put increasing pressure on existing care workers, delaying the commencement of packages of care and increasing bed-blocking in hospitals. This, in turn, reduces the number of operations that can be performed, which has a knock-on effect on doctors, nurses, community workers and many others.”
As a provider, Fairhope has already set about offering more to its staff as a way of increasing its own rate of retention, as Fairchild discussed in more detail.
She said: “Staff retention has always been a priority at Fairhope, and we are proud to declare that we have retained 80 per cent of our staff for more than six years, some for longer and some from the outset of the company.
“We believe this is because of the high value and respect that is placed on their importance, not only at Fairhope but in the wider community as well. Our staff are paid well above the minimum wage, paid a petrol allowance and paid when a client is in hospital or respite if the care is kept open. In addition, their training is kept up to date and they are fully supported and respected in their role.”
However, given the important role that care workers play in the health and care system, Fairchild believes that government action should be the next move, even if in a less radical vein than what it is promising for the NHS.
One thing that could be done, Fairchild suggests, is improve pathways into the profession and means of progression within the field to entice new recruits.
Fairchild says: “Without care workers playing their important role in the health and care system, our societies would almost certainly collapse. As such, greater importance needs to be attached to the role of a care worker, and it should be integrated as part of the medical profession in addition to being recognised as part of an individual’s support team.
“There also needs to be a clear career pathway for those who wish to go on to higher-paid and senior positions. We would like to see a lot more positive press about the role, which we believe would make the profession more attractive to the younger generation.”
As well as making changes to incentives within the industry, government-backed schemes to help reach out to youngsters could also help address the longstanding recruitment issues, Fairchild says.
Fairchild explained: “We would also like to see government-backed advertising and enhanced career opportunities for 16-year-olds at school. This could perhaps include a pilot scheme, working alongside the government, whereby companies such as ourselves gave talks to children in our local schools not just about apprenticeship schemes, but about job satisfaction, working flexibility and career options.
Fairchild has also suggested that this could then provide her firm and other providers a chance to weigh-in by offering work experience which will coincide with pupils who are undergoing their healthcare certificate.
Of course, it remains to be seen as to whether the government will heed such calls, and Fairchild is very aware that the matter is very much out of her hands. Yet, at least considering improving outreach to youngsters could well make necessary improvements to address recruitment troubles, as is the case across numerous industries stricken by the skills gap.
Fairchild added: “As a business working on the ground, we can’t control what happens in politics. What we can control, however, is our practices and our commitments.
“As society ages further, [our duty as carers] will only become more and more important as time goes on. All we ask in the meantime is that those working in the sector receive the appreciation they deserve.”