While the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been felt across the nation, the effect on our care sector has been profound. Social care workers may be first in line for vaccinations as front line key workers, but there is still a vital need to protect employees and contingent workers, and halt the virus’s spread.
Workforce managers in care homes and social care organisations have a challenge in the year ahead with the IR35 reforms, and resultant changes to managing agency staff. Still, there is no doubt that having skilled professionals on hand to cover for specialist needs, holiday cover, and urgent shifts will always be in high demand!
The government has created a policy paper called the ‘COVID-19 Winter Plan 2020 to 2021’. This document looks at staff planning, safety guidelines and best practise to keep social care workers and the people they care for, safe.
Let’s run through the key information you need to know to be prepared for these recommendations, which are likely to become hard and fast rules!
Managing Care Home Agency Staff According to New UK Guidance
So, the primary takeaway is that employers should try to avoid moving staff between different care home facilities as far as they can.
Vulnerable residents are far more susceptible to serious illness as a result of the virus. This guideline is intended to limit how staff move between different social care settings, to have consistency within the workforce. Therefore, if an outbreak does occur, it will be more limited to within a smaller number of settings, rather than being exposed to multiple organisations.
As a social care manager, reliant on agency staff to plug those all-important workforce gaps, this presents a bit of a puzzle!
- IR35 nurses may fall into the new off-payroll working classification. Social care employers will likely be reluctant to commit to fixed, regular hours for the same agency nurses for fear of inadvertently breaching the new employment rules.
- Agency staffing needs are often urgent and with very little notice, for example, if a team member becomes ill, and a shift needs covering immediately.
- Requirements vary – if a resident requires a specific treatment or level of care, a contingency professional might be a far more affordable option than employing regular staff with a particular skill set.
The only way to comply with the new winter working guidelines and balance your staffing needs against your budgets is to plan as effectively as possible.
Find out more
How can OUTT make a real difference?
Balancing a Care Home Staffing Strategy with Pandemic Safety in Mind
While the recommendations are to secure agency workers exclusively for your care home, OUTT recognises that this guidance conflicts the IR35 rules. It is essential to work with a fully IR35 compliant agency who offers full PAYE employment benefits to every registered social care professional!
The advice is to:
- Work on forecasting to predict required agency staff, in which roles, for how many shifts, and for how long.
- Look ahead for at least a few months. The guidelines currently cover ‘winter’ very broadly, but as we can’t know when the pandemic restrictions will be safe to lift, it’s best to build in a contingency.
- Pre-book agency staff as required, and try to coordinate teams so that the same care home professionals work together on the same shifts.
Appointing agency staff for fixed shift patterns, permanent work, or a long-term shift rota could cause issues if that worker falls under the IR35 rules. That might mean you are legally obliged to take them onto your PAYE payroll, even if they don’t wish to, with a cost increase of up to 30%.
OUTT is on hand to offer a workable solution to help you meet the IR35 rules, and the winter working safety guidelines, without compromising your staffing strategy or your budget – get in touch for more information about how this works.
We offer employers a rating system, whereby you can report back about agency staff performance, and candidates can build up a portfolio of testimonials, skills and qualifications. If you need to pre-book skilled care home staff for the coming months and need confidence that you’re able to rely on your agency workers to deliver to the highest standards, sign up as an OUTT employer to get started!
How to Guard Against COVID-19 Infections in Care Home Settings
With the best planning in the world, we all know that it is impossible to be 100% certain about how staffing requirements will look in a few weeks!
There could be changes to pandemic safety guidelines, members of the team may need to self-isolate or take time off with illness, or demands for staff to patient ratios might change. That in mind, the critical controls to prevent the spread of Coronavirus remain of significant importance:
- Staff to patient ratios are imperative. Care levels demand a requisite number of trained professionals and HCAs, and therefore agency staff are still permitted on an ad hoc basis as required.
- Asking agency workers to provide a COVID-19 test before beginning a shift is a control measure in addition to seven-day testing cycles for all care staff.
- Workers should change into their uniform on arrival, and wash that uniform, including any reusable protection items after every shift, on a hot wash.
- Agencies should not book shifts for the same worker in two locations on the same day, to ensure that there is less risk of a care worker bringing the virus from one setting into another.
- If an agency care home employee has been working at a home where there has been a virus outbreak, they should leave it at least 14 days before accepting a shift at another facility to ensure they are not a carrier.
With vaccination programmes rolling out, many frontline care staff may have had their first injection. However, since we cannot yet know how that will impact our ability to carry or spread the virus, having a vaccination does not eliminate the need for ongoing safety controls.
The government guidelines talk about exclusive contracts and recommend increasing employment levels to ensure you have adequate shift cover. Still, we acknowledge that this depends very much on staffing budgets, occupancy levels and pressure on your existing workforce. Usual measures such as medical-grade PPE, restrictions on visitors and movements, routine testing and enhanced hygiene and cleaning procedures remain essential.
If you need any advice about structuring agency care home staff around these new winter working guidelines, please contact the OUTT social care recruitment team. We offer cost-effective fixed agency rates, full IR35 compliance, and a network of highly skilled, and employer rated social care professionals with our support with compliance at every step of the way.