The impact of Covid-19 on Britain’s care homes was a public health crisis that no one saw coming. In the week ending 19 April, 651 of the 682 coronavirus outbreaks reported across the whole of England were in care homes [Public Health England PHE].

When the government highlighted agency staff as one of the possible vectors of Covid in care homes – many care home managers simply stopped using agencies for fear of increasing cross-contamination.  Permanent staff started living on-site for safety, and many didn’t see their families for months at a time.

The sheer emotional toll of seeing elderly residents die, sometimes on a daily basis, was intense and unremitting. The care staff were often the only link between the family and their relative at the moment of passing.

It brought home to the wider public just how critical and exceptional the role of a care worker is. Whether it is an agency carer or a permanent carer, the compassion and commitment needed are identical.

Recruitment in this sector requires high ethical standards, yet it is still largely unregulated.

Who is regulating the care industry?

“Homes are three times more likely to rely on staff sent by agencies than other employers.” Theguardian.com (May 2020)

 Despite the heightened public awareness of the key contribution of healthcare workers, it is perhaps shocking to find that, in England, there is still no formal regulation of the recruitment of agency care workers. A grey area in a vulnerable industry.

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) is responsible for inspecting care homes to make sure they provide care that meets national standards of quality and safety. Their guidelines clearly state that residents have the right to “be cared for by staff who have the knowledge, skills, and experience needed to meet your health and welfare needs.”

It’s not an industry where you can settle for just filling the bookings, Safehands Managing Director Katie Armstrong is emphatic on this point – you can’t cut corners on care.

“In England, anyone can set up a supply agency and supply staff. You don’t have to be registered with a government body and you don’t have to have accreditation. Not all agencies have the same vetting and screening procedures as we do at Safehands. Our staff are worth the slightly higher wage we charge because we don’t recruit by numbers and we recruit the best. Treat someone like a number and they will act like a number.”

Safehands – Recruiting for the frontline

Agency workers make up about 10% of the social care workforce.

Care home managers need quality candidates – agency workers with full references and enhanced DBS checks – and with relevant caring experience and background. Workers also need the personal attributes that money can’t buy – commitment, sensitivity and compassion. Recruiting and retaining those quality candidates takes highly committed recruitment consultants who will go the extra mile to find the right people as Katie Armstrong explains.

“Our clients expect more because their job demands that they have to. They expect that anyone wearing a Safehands uniform and badge will actively make a difference to that vulnerable child with learning difficulties, or that elderly person with dementia.

It’s vital to us that we recruit people who do care and will make a difference. If I met a candidate that I wouldn’t want to care for my own grandmother I’m not going to recruit them.”

Safehands never use call centres to field out-of-hours calls. All calls are handled by their permanent in-house team. Chances are, if a care home manager is calling out-of-hours, they have an immediate, acute staffing crisis. They want the reassurance of talking to a member of staff who knows the care home, the residents, and their staff. And who can place an experienced pair of safe hands with you within hours.

The Safehands recruitment policy is rigorous. Candidates are pre-screened, followed by a face-to-face before a new candidate is onboarded for full background and reference checks and training. Up to 30 online courses may be required before a candidate is passed as suitable and added to the roster.

Putting care in safer hands

Care work is taking responsibility for another person’s life. It’s an immense responsibility. This is why it makes sense to partner with an agency that shares your own ethical standards and values.

“We know that, as an agency, our carers are our best ambassadors. If you place a good carer in a care home, it reflects well on them, and also on us as an agency. It can take 4 years to win a new client in our sector, and just 1 person on 1 shift to lose it.”

 Katie Armstrong

Recruiting with your heart as well as your head

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