Government fund to increase staffing levels and COVID-19 testing capacity
The Government has announced a new £269m moneypot to increase staffing levels and COVID-19 testing capacity in care homes.
The cash comes as the impact of the new variant of COVID-19 is being felt across the country, with staff absence rates rising sharply both in care homes and among home care staff, due to positive tests or having to self isolate.
The funding will protect and support the social care sector, including care homes and domiciliary care providers, by increasing workforce capacity and testing.
The vital infection prevention and control guidance on staff movement in care homes is also being reinforced, with a reminder to providers to continue following the rules and keep staff and residents safe.
The new £120m funding will help local authorities to boost staffing levels; providing additional care staff where shortages arise; supporting administrative tasks so that experienced and skilled staff can focus on providing care; and helping existing staff to take on additional hours if they wish with overtime payments or by covering childcare costs.
This funding will bolster staffing numbers in a controlled and safe way, while ensuring people continue to receive the highest quality of care
Health and Social Care Secretary, Matt Hancock, said: “This funding will bolster staffing numbers in a controlled and safe way, while ensuring people continue to receive the highest quality of care.
“Since the start of the pandemic, we have taken steps to protect care homes, including increasing the testing available for staff and residents, providing free PPE, and investing billions of pounds of additional funding for infection control.
“And help is on the way with the offer of a vaccine, with over 40% of elderly care home residents having already received their first dose.”
Many local authorities across the country already have staffing initiatives in place to increase capacity and address staffing issues.
These include care worker staff banks where new recruits are paid during training, redeployment models where DBS-checked staff are trained and moved into operational roles, and end-to-end training and recruitment services.
The new £120m fund will ensure such initiatives can continue, and help other local authorities implement similar schemes.
The cash is in addition to the £149m announced in December, which will be used to support rapid testing of staff testing and facilitate visits from family and friends where possible.
The funding will help care home providers with the costs incurred, including setting up safe testing areas, providing staff training, and will contribute towards staff time spent administering and receiving tests.
Staff are our most-precious resource and we want to do all that we can to support them especially in these incredibly-difficult times
This grant is ringfenced for lateral-flow device testing in adult social care.
And local authorities will be required to pass on 80% of the funding to care homes on a per-beds basis, with 20% used at the local authorities discretion to support the care sector in delivering additional lateral-flow device testing.
All the funding will be available later this month, so local authorities can take action quickly to respond to the pandemic.
Minister for Care, Helen Whately, said: “This additional funding gives a boost to the social care workforce during some of the most-difficult days of this pandemic so far.
“Care workers have been doing the most-amazing job throughout the pandemic. In challenging circumstances, they have been caring for some of the people most at risk from this virus with compassion and skill.
“This additional £120m will support social care to cope where there are pressing staff shortages due to the pandemic and comes on top of the £149m to support safer testing.
“We’re continuing to listen to care providers to make sure they have the help they need, from free PPE to extra testing, along with all the work to vaccinate care home residents, staff and the wider social care workforce.”
Increased staff testing remains a critical part of reducing transmission.
Care homes currently have access to three tests per week for their staff, with daily testing for seven days in the event of a positive case to protect staff and residents.
Now, care homes will have additional lateral flow devices to test individuals working in more than one setting before the start of every shift.
Restricting staff movement also remains critical to minimising the risk of transmission.
We want to work with the department to ensure the staff capacity fund delivers to the frontline and is suitably flexible to reflect the crisis whereby providers are struggling with staff illness and absenteeism in the same way as their colleagues in the NHS are
And, in response to the Government’s consultation, the sector called for an increase in staffing capacity instead of regulation to achieve this goal.
Professor Martin Green OBE, chief executive of Care England, said: “As the largest representative body for independent providers of adult social care, Care England is pleased the Government listened to the sector regarding their deep concerns about banning staff movement.
“We want to work with the department to ensure the staff capacity fund delivers to the frontline and is suitably flexible to reflect the crisis whereby providers are struggling with staff illness and absenteeism in the same way as their colleagues in the NHS are.
“Staff are our most-precious resource and we want to do all that we can to support them especially in these incredibly-difficult times.”
Vic Rayner, chief executive of the National Care Forum, adds: “It is positive that the Government has taken note of the extreme staffing pressure that care providers across the country are experiencing.
“The funding announced and confirmed today is welcome news, but must be subject to continuous review.
“Communities across the country desperately need care organisations to be properly supported now and in the future so that they are ready and able to face every twist and turn of this pandemic.”