Staffing levels in care ‘dangerously low’ with dying residents denied dignified end, says UNISON survey  

Nearly a third (31%) of care staff say staffing levels are dangerously low, getting worse and negatively affecting the care provided, says a UNISON survey published today (Wednesday).

The findings are based on responses from more than 1,600 care employees and reveal some dying residents are being denied a dignified end to their lives. This is because there are not enough staff to sit with them in their final hours, says the union.

Other shocking consequences of the staffing crisis highlighted by the survey include people being left in dirty sheets, denied regular baths or showers, and not helped to dress until the afternoon.

An overwhelming majority (97%) of workers say their care employer is currently experiencing staffing shortages with burnout, overwork, and low pay (or better pay elsewhere) among the main reasons cited.

The findings were based on responses from care workers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The majority (52%) work in care homes, with the rest providing support in other locations such as people’s own homes or in supported living accommodation.

Other findings from the survey include two thirds (67%) of staff saying they are thinking of leaving social care. The union says this is a disastrous but inevitable consequence of poverty wages, low morale and years of chronic underfunding.

Care workers who took part in the survey were asked to choose a statement that best described the situation where they worked. A total of 47% said staffing shortages are having a negative impact on the care provided and 31% that staffing levels are dangerously low, getting worse and having a negative impact on the care provided.

This compares with 20% who said there are some staffing shortages but their workplace is managing, and 1% who said the situation is fine and there are no serious staffing shortages.

Of those thinking of leaving social care, the top reasons staff gave were burnout, stress, mental health and wellbeing (30%), followed by better pay elsewhere or low pay (29%) and compulsory vaccination (14%). Other reasons for wanting to quit included poor treatment by their employer (11%) and overwork due to staffing shortages (10%).

Commenting on the findings, UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea said: “Social care is experiencing an unprecedented staffing crisis.

“Care workers are leaving in their droves – burnt out from the pandemic, exhausted from covering under-staffed shifts and fed up with low wages.

“This is nothing short of a nightmare for families worried about the care of their loved ones, overworked employees struggling to cope and employers concerned they won’t have the staff to stay open.

“The care sector is desperately short of workers and can’t wait months for the government to come up with a solution.

“Ministers should give all care employees some early festive cheer and announce an across-the-board pay rise. This would persuade many on the verge of quitting to stay and encourage more people to think seriously about working in social care.”

Care workers who took part in the survey highlighted the impact that staffing shortages were having on the quality of care delivered and on staff morale. Comments included:

·       “People aren’t getting regular baths or showers, just a wash. There’s no time to do the job properly. Some are not getting dressed until 2pm, and assisted feeding is rushed. Staff are exhausted, angry and upset because they know they just don’t have the time to do everything as they should.”

·       “There are not enough carers on each shift. Residents are being put to bed early just so staff can deal with all the residents.”

·       “The dying aren’t dying with dignity because there’s not enough staff to sit with people in their final hours. Residents are being neglected, not having baths, meals are late, and staff are exhausted.”

·       “There are unsafe staffing levels on both the day and night shifts. Care is depressingly rushed and residents long for just those few extra minutes of social contact. But we simply don’t have the time. Staff are on their knees. Many are taking jobs in supermarkets for the same pay but far less stress.”

·       “People aren’t getting enough one-to-one time or the right care due to low staffing levels. More falls are happening, and accidents are occurring more frequently.”

·       “The level of care is declining as there aren’t enough carers to do the job. People are being left in wet, dirty beds.”

This month, the government’s ‘no jab, no job’ mandate for care home staff in England came into force. Until Christmas Eve, care workers can temporarily exempt themselves from having the Covid jab. After this date they will require a formal medical exemption. UNISON fears the end of the year could see an exodus of staff, pushing the care sector over the edge and forcing homes to close.

Notes to editors:   -The survey was carried out between 13 October and 4 November 2021 and received responses from 1,637 care workers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Survey data available on request. -Case studies (all names have been changed):   Residential care worker Pat, 21 says staffing levels on her night shifts are often half what they should be. She says: “Staff are doing everything they can to deliver the best care possible, but there simply aren’t enough of us. It’s unfair on the residents. Often, the only option is to change the clothes of someone who soiled their bed without washing them. There’s also barely time to wash residents’ hair so it doesn’t get done as often as it should. I recently had to choose between sitting and holding the hand of a dying resident until their family arrived or going to clean someone up.”Suzanne, also a residential care worker, describes staff levels as ‘dangerously low’ at times with care ‘well below acceptable standards’. The 40-year-old says: “We often look after more residents than we should so can’t provide quality basic care. I’ve had to leave residents in tears because I had to care for someone else who also needed me. A few colleagues have been lost due to the vaccination deadline and almost half the workforce is off sick because of stress or illness. I took a pay cut to get into care – I love the job, but it’s taking its toll on me.”   -UNISON is the UK’s largest union with more than 1.3 million members providing public services in education, local government, the NHS, police service and energy. They are employed in the public, voluntary and private sectors.

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