Few could have doubted the impact of non-vaccinated staff leaving care homes. It beggars belief that the Government took the decision to direct managers of care homes to dismiss staff without any plan B in place to support the sector.
According to new research by Unison, care home residents are dying alone, and their everyday needs are being "neglected" due to staffing levels being at such a "dangerously low" level.
The survey found that people in residential care are being denied a dignified end to their lives as there are not enough staff to sit with them during their final hours.
Almost a third (31%) of care workers said that staffing levels are dangerously low, getting worse and negatively affecting care quality, leaving carers feeling "exhausted, angry and upset".
Around two thirds (67%), meanwhile, are considering leaving the sector, which Unison described as "disastrous, but inevitable" consequence of years of low wages and morale, and underfunding.
As part of the research, Unison surveyed 1,637 employees in England, Wales and Northern Ireland who work in care homes, or help people at home or in supported living.
Respondents told of how people are not getting regular washes, some are not getting dressed until the afternoon, whilst others are being put to bed early so staff can attend to other residents. They described care as "depressingly rushed" and said its quality is declining, with "unsafe" staffing levels on both day and night shifts.
One respondent said: "The dying aren’t dying with dignity because there’s not enough staff to sit with people in their final hours.
"Residents are being neglected, not having baths, meals are late, and staff are exhausted." Another added: "The level of care is declining as there aren’t enough carers to do the job. People are being left in wet, dirty beds."
Suzanne, a 40-year old residential care worker, described staff levels as "dangerously low" at times, with care "well below acceptable standards".
"I’ve had to leave residents in tears because I had to care for someone else who also needed me," she said. Almost all respondents (97%) said their employer is experiencing staffing shortages, with burnout, overwork and low pay among the main reasons cited.
Some 47%, meanwhile, agreed with the statement that shortages are having a negative impact on care, and 31% agreed staffing levels are also dangerously low and getting worse.
One in five (20%) said their workplace is managing despite the shortages, while a mere 1% said their workplace is fine and is experiencing no serious staffing shortages.
Some non-vaccinated staff who have chosen to leave social care have accused the Government of adopting double standards, claiming the government has stuck rigidly to dismissing staff in the care sector who refuse to take vaccination, while at the same time allowing NHS staff to delay the vaccination requirement until 2022.
The Governments incredulous decision to allow visitors to care homes with no evidence of having been vaccinated, at a time when managers are dismissing non- vaccinated staff says it all about the Governments lack of clarity in their thinking about staff and visitors to care homes.
Concern about residents
As if it wasn’t enough that residents in care homes were asked to bear the brunt during the pandemic, they are now seeing a drop in their quality of life and because of staff shortages a reduction in end-of-life care and their care needs.
It is hard to defend the case that staff were not given sufficient time and encouragement to have the vaccine. This is not the issue here. But there was no thought given by the Government to the impact on people’s lives as a result of their decision. Shortage of staff must inevitably mean that staff in care homes will be unable to provide the high standards of care to meet the needs of residents.
The decision to dismiss staff who have not been vaccinated, while at the same time allowing visitors who may not have been vaccinated is hard to understand. This can be set alongside the Governments decision to delay enforcement of NHS workers requirement to have the vaccination until after the winter, only serves to compound the disparity between NHS and social care workers.
Albert Cook BA, MA & Fellow Charted Quality Institute Managing Director Bettal Quality Consultancy