The government recently closed a consultation on a proposal to ban staff movements between different care settings to minimise the spread of COVID-19 infection and other viral illnesses. A study on the impact of coronavirus in care homes in England indicated, “one of the common factors in care homes with higher levels of infection among staff was the extent to which those homes employed staff who worked across multiple sites”. Hence, to reduce the rate of COVID-19 transmission registered residential and nursing home providers would be required to not use staff who within the previous 14 days have worked in another health care setting unless this would result in unsafe staffing levels. According to the summary, the requirement would apply to the use of all staff including bank and agency staff yet registered managers, district and community nurses, GPs, other healthcare professionals, and CQC inspectors are a few among those exempt.
The Care Workers’ Charity and REC (Recruitment and Employment Confederation) in an open letter has slammed the proposal claiming this to be the ‘tip of the iceberg’, stating the plan fails to take into account the existing significant staffing pressures and the potentially devastating impact on care workers. Public Health England says about 10 percent of the care workforce are agency workers who are an integral part of the care sector; looking after the most vulnerable members of our society. Yet, despite Agencies working hard to ensure staff delivers care in a COVID-19-secure way, the proposed policy singles out temporary staff and utilises them as scapegoats to explain the rise in deaths in Care Homes. This legislation deviates the blame from the government whose negligence and failure to test patients for COVID-19 before discharging and placing them into care homes at the start of the pandemic to the movement of care home staff. Temporary workers – Nurses and Carers adhere to the same professional requirements as well as infection control guidelines as their permanent colleagues. They simply chose to do extra shifts because it suits their lifestyle and needs. Banning care staff from taking on more than one role targets individuals, who earn a substantial portion of their income through Agency opportunities.
In the midst of a pandemic where the social care sector is witnessing significant staffing and financial pressures; the new rule will also impact care home residents, leaving them without quality care. The departure of care staff who have remained a pillar of strength in the lives of residents during the pandemic will be of disadvantage to their health and wellbeing. Care providers could also be forced to combat unsafe staffing levels which will lead to the closure of many care homes.
While the rationale behind this proposal is understandable, we fail to understand why the movement of NHS staff between various NHS settings is not being subjected to the same regulation. This disproportionate treatment is unwarranted, and the proposal neglects existing procedures in place to manage both safe staffing levels and staff movement; regularly reviewed by care providers.
Rather than regulating staff
movement in the middle of a pandemic, Care England and NCF suggests the best
way to manage infection prevention and control is through testing. The
government should prioritise improving the efficiency and frequency at which
tests are conducted and results are obtained; upholding their pledge to swab
carers every week, and residents every 28 days to detect new cases swiftly. If
staff and residents are routinely tested and infection control measures are rigorously
maintained, there would be less need to limit staff movement.
This unjust policy victimises Nurses and Carers, particularly temporary staff who are the backbone of the social care sector and fails to offer support and recognition for their resilience as they cope with the on-going effects of COVID-19.
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