New £120m fund to provide boost for care sector staffing levels

The Covid-stricken care home and domiciliary care sector is to get an extra £120m government funding to help boost depleted staff levels, ministers announced on Saturday night.

The funds would help increase staff numbers, said the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC). Ministers said the aim was to help local authorities plug worker shortages and allow additional staff to take on administrative tasks, freeing up skilled colleagues to provide care. It could also help existing staff work extra hours with overtime payments or by covering childcare costs, the DHSC said.

The cash comes after a snapshot survey from the National Care Forum (NCF) earlier this month suggested that some care services were reporting staff absences of more than 50%.

The health secretary, Matt Hancock, said: “This funding will bolster staffing numbers in a controlled and safe way, whilst ensuring people continue to receive the highest quality of care.”

The 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.”

The money comes after the government was warned that its plan to restrict “all but essential” movement of staff between care home and support provided in people’s homes, to reduce the threat of virus transmission among the most vulnerable, would result in acute staff shortages.

The sector suffered high infection rates and mounting death tolls during the first lockdown and the latest figures show that it is being similarly hit in the second wave.

Covid outbreaks in care homes have increased threefold in the past month, with the second-highest weekly total since April recorded last week.

Adam Briggs of The Health Foundation said the rise in reported care home incidents was “deeply concerning. He said: “Care homes cannot be neglected again.”

Ministers have promised additional tests for staff working in more than one setting ahead of every shift.

Professor Martin Green, of Care England, which represents independent adult social care providers, said he was “pleased” the government had listened to their “deep concerns about banning staff movement”.

He added: “Staff are our most precious resource and we want to do all we can to support them, especially in these incredibly difficult times.”

Vic Rayner at the National Care Forum welcomed the new funding, subject to “continuous review”.

She said that proposals to prevent staff movement had been “ill-thought through”, targeted low-paid care workers, and created a “high level of concerns”.

She said: “Care homes have been doing everything possible to reduce staff movement, and the prospect of enforcement was extremely unhelpful in a sector stretched to near breaking point.”

The funding comes on top of £149m announced in December to support the roll-out of rapid virus testing and visits.

The DHSC said that all funding would be available “later this month”. It added that the aim was to offer a jab to all care home residents and staff by the end of next week.

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