UK care sector declares ‘red’ alert amid Covid staffing shortage
Over 11,000 care home workers are currently unable to work amid the spread of the Omicron strain, with staffing shortages leaving the UK sector struggling to cope and infections delaying hospital discharges.
Government data shows that, across England, 9.4% of care home staff are temporarily off work, with around 3% self-isolating due to Covid. Although the figures could be higher, having been undercounted due to the festive period and bank holiday weekend.
The situation has forced more than 90 care operators to declare a “red” alert, meaning that they don’t have the staff to meet patient demands. This has been exacerbated by a shortage of PCR tests, delaying workers from getting test results and forcing them to isolate at home longer than needed.
Barchester, one of the UK’s largest care home operators, running 250 establishments, has warned that it is facing Covid outbreaks in 105 of its homes. Under government guidelines, care homes with active outbreaks cannot accept hospital discharges, creating a backlog and preventing the struggling NHS from clearing beds.
Staffing shortages have forced care agencies to offer up to £80 ($108.31) an hour for temporary staff – four times the normal cost – as well as resulting in homes poaching staff from other providers at the last minute.
“The spread of Omicron across the country will bring more care homes into outbreak, put huge pressure on the already compromised staff group and mean those who need care do not get it,” said Vic Rayner, the chief executive of the National Care Forum.
To address the situation, one care operator in Yorkshire, Mike Padgham, called on the UK government to establish a “volunteer army” of retired nurses, doctors, and carers who could potentially fill shifts at short notice.
Despite the situation in care homes, the chief executive of Barchester, Pete Calveley, says that the virus is not causing serious illness and death among the majority of residents, with most only showing “minor or cold-like symptoms.”