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With continuing pressure on care homes because of the pandemic, and with Covid-19 vaccines recently being introduced, we explore what care home owners should think about to ensure the long-term safety and wellbeing of their staff and residents.

A support system to avoid staff burnout

Even before Covid-19, staff burnout was an issue within the care industry due to difficulties retaining staff as well as attracting new workers to the industry. The industry is also facing the potential hammer blow of a successful appeal in the Mencap case relating to the payment of sleep in shifts.

The Covid-19 pandemic has, unfortunately exacerbated these problems, with care workers required to adopt a “keep calm and carry-on” approach whilst displaying high energy levels and a friendly face. This is both emotionally and physically draining on care workers, not only are they having to deal with staff shortages due to self-isolation requirements, but they are also acting as an emotional support system for residents who have not been able to see their families in a long time. There have been some truly amazing stories of staff living on-site during the first lockdown to reduce the risk of the virus being spread amongst residents.

Mental health risks such as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression are expected as a long-term impact of the pandemic, so a support system for staff is vital. The most efficient way to support your workers is to engage with them through conversation. If time allows, it could be beneficial to organise group support sessions. Some individuals are more vocal than others, but group sessions help to create an internal support system.

It’s also important to monitor staff well-being and where appropriate, make referrals to occupational health if they consider the physical or mental health of any staff is a concern. The Intensive Care Society has a Wellbeing Hub where care homes can access staff well-being resources.

Covid-19 testing for care home visitors

Last year the government pledged to roll out increased testing for care home workers and residents. However, from 8 March 2021, every resident will be allowed to nominate a single visitor, who they can meet indoors and hold hands with. The visitor will be required to wear PPE and have a Covid test beforehand. Whilst this increases the number of people passing through the care home, so potentially increasing the risk of infection, residents can rely on their family member for support rather than the care home workers. However, with the reporting of “false negatives”, this could result in higher risk of infection, leading on to further staff shortages and increased likelihood of staff burnout.

Care homes could deal with this issue by using designated areas for residential visits and limiting the amount of people who have contact with the visitors. It is essential that each visitor observes Covid safe measures such as appropriate PPE and avoid close contact.

Preparing for the Covid-19 vaccine

Care home residents and care home staff are in the top priority to receive the Covid-19 vaccine and it was recently reported by the BBC that it has been offered to all older residents at eligible care homes in England. There were concerns over the distribution of the vaccine to care homes, but the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (HMRA) has now approved the way doses should be distributed to homes.

In preparation care home managers should:

  • put together staff lists, including basic details (name, gender, date of birth, NHS number, GP details) for each staff member
  • be ready to provide each staff member with a letter confirming their employment in the care sector
  • keep staff records of vaccinations and report via the Capacity Tracker (as you do with flu vaccination)
  • consider the Covid-secure logistics of releasing staff to receive their vaccine, while maintaining staffing levels within their home
  • take steps now to ensure that staff understand the need for obtaining consent, so that they in turn can help residents and families to complete the necessary forms when a vaccine is ready to be delivered within a care home. Once issued, these forms will provide additional information about the vaccine they are receiving.

This article was co-written by Michael Kerrigan, senior employment lawyer and Jenny Dodds, employment legal assistant. 

The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.