More than 90 care home operators have declared a staffing emergency, as thousands of care workers are forced to self-isolate with Covid-19.
More than 11,000 care home workers are absent from work for Covid reasons, according to staffing data reported by the Guardian.
Government live data shows that 9.4% of care home staff are off work, with almost 3% absent because of Covid.
The problem is particularly acute in the north-east, north-west and parts of London, where combined Covid and non-Covid absence rates ranged from 16% to 22%.
Barchester, one on the UK’s largest private care home operators, is reportedly dealing with Covid outbreaks in 105 of its 250 homes and is facing significant staff absences of up to 15% in some homes.
A Barchester spokesperson said: “Whilst omicron is impacting staffing, only 2% of our overall staffing is currently affected and self-isolating. In a small number of homes there are between 5 and 15% of staff self-isolating, however our whole-home approach ensures that the safety and wellbeing of our residents is not impacted, with staff taking on extra shifts, using staff from sister homes and our bank workers and, only where absolutely necessary, the use of agency staff.”
Many operators have declared a “red” alert, meaning that staffing ratios have been breached.
Handling sickness absence
Some claim they are struggling to access temporary staff, with agencies reportedly quoting £80 an hour per staff member.
The problem may have been exacerbated by vast swathes of care workers leaving the sector last year, partly due the requirement for care workers to be fully vaccinated by 11 November 2021.
Data released by the Nuffield Trust in December showed that 40,000 care workers, home care workers and care assistants had left the sector in the prior six months.
One care home operator told the Guardian this week: “We are 20% down [on staff]. I know of other providers who say they are 30% to 50% down.
“Our biggest worry is the infection rates are so high it’s not going to spare anyone. We need an effective lockdown or control measures so that we don’t let the infections spiral out of control.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Protecting care staff and people who use social care services continues to be a priority, especially as cases surge and omicron spreads rapidly across the country.
“Throughout the pandemic, we have made almost £2.4bn in specific funding available for adult social care and this week we announced an extra £60m to keep people in care homes safe over January.’’
Care workers were recently added to the shortage occupation list, following recommendations by the Migration Advisory Committee, which will improve access to staff from abroad.