It may seem that summer is still upon us and that the sun will continue to shine indefinitely as we experience one of the warmest and sunniest Septembers on record in the UK. We all know that this is not going to be the case and that the UK will definitely soon start to experience winter weather.
It is this certain knowledge that we are entering autumn and that winter is approaching that should prompt social care providers to start to plan for winter. In this blog we identify some of the ways in which providers can start to plan for winter.
Is planning that important?
Failing to plan is planning to fail. There are many things which if providers start to get in order now mean they will experience an easier winter than otherwise might be the case. For example the cost of some things rises in the winter as demand increases. People who plan early, and who can store some items away, will benefit from a little forward thinking.
Planning is also important as some things need sorting out before the winter to avoid breakdowns or lengthy waits for servicing or repair. Providers also know that if a utility fails for more than 24 hours, this requires a CQC notification and the increased scrutiny that may bring.
At this time of year providers should ensure that they are up to date with servicing of things which may become important over the winter months. In the community, this means reminding staff to ensure their cars are services, tyres have tread and that they have an emergency kit, e.g. warm clothing, a snow shovel, torch and some food, with them in case they are caught out by the weather
For residential service providers this means making sure the boiler(s) is serviced and fit for purpose and, where in use, chimneys are cleaned. Emergency lighting should have undergone its annual checks with batteries demonstrating at least three hours charge.
Fuel and utilities
For some providers, especially home care in rural locations, ensuring staff have a small stock of additional fuel for the winter is advisable.
Staff also need to know who to call, e.g. next of kin or the energy supplier, if they find a Service User without heating or lighting. This is information that you might like to have to hand before there is an issue.
Meanwhile residential service providers need to consider alternatives for heating and lighting should their primary services fail, e.g. a back-up generator in house or on emergency call out as well as risk assessed portable heaters, torches with spare batteries etc. To ensure heat and light if the primary services fail. Autumn is also a good time to stock up on coal and logs.
Food and drink
As well as considering carrying a little food and drink with them on house calls in case they get stuck, domiciliary care staff also need to consider with their Service Users stocking up on some non-perishable essentials which may provide useful if the weather turns particularly bad. Tinned and packet foods are a good option if carers cannot get to an individual to do their cooking or cannot do their regular shop.
Similarly residential care providers might consider stocking up on items they can use if fresh produce is difficult to get. Plans ought to include alternative ways of heating food and drinks if power or gas go offline, e.g. a camping stove or gas barbeque.
Without a doubt, staffing during the winter can be problematic as staff succumb to seasonal infections and the desire to be off work over the festive season. If managers have not sorted out their Christmas rota by October, they should, ensuring a fair distribution of work on the holidays among the team.
Staff should also be encouraged to have their seasonal vaccinations for both flu and COVID and reminded this not only reduces their risk of becoming ill / makes any illness less severe, but it also protects Service Users.
While full staffing is not achievable for many providers, the need to continue to try to recruit remains high. Where a provider knows they struggle with winter staffing, now is the time to consider working with a staffing agency so that you can complete your due diligence and the agency can get to know your working patterns before you are in crisis.
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) promote access to the weather-health alerting system. Providers are advised to sign up so they can get advance notice of extreme weather in both the summer and winter as well as accessing the guidance and advice provided by the UKHSA.
The winter can prove a challenging time for social care providers. The better providers plan for the winter so that they can meet some of the challenges head on. Failing to prepare for the winter will mean some providers, and hance some Service Users, will struggle unnecessarily especially where the issues they face are predictable.
Of course no-one can prepare or plan for unforeseeable events, but if the COVID pandemic has taught the care sector anything it is about the value of being prepared.
One way to prepare for the oncoming autumn and winter is to source your policies and procedures etc. from a reputable consultancy, like Bettal. Bettal offer both policies and procedures on: Crisis Management and Service Continuity Planning, and Prevention of Delay in Critical Supplies among others.
It is then up to the provider to review the policies and procedures, adapt any that need adapting for local use and to roll out the documentation to the wider team and ensure they are implemented.
If you would like to know more, browse our website, or get in touch:
Peter Ellis MA MSc BSc(Hons) RN
Bettal Quality Consultancy