By Andrew Preston
The implications of recent reports are clear; rising pressure on the social care system is driving a growing rejection of traditional work models across the care workforce.
A recent report found that social care staff are the most overstretched workers in Britain, and trade union Unison union claims that crippling workloads are driving a mass migration of social workers from permanent to temp work as they seek higher premiums and greater control over their caseloads.
The rise of a temporary care workforce is almost universally seen as a negative trend in the public sector because councils still regard temps as a last-minute ‘fire-brigade’ solution, shuttled in to compensate for a managerial oversight or an unforeseen emergency.
This is connected to a perception of temporary carers as high-cost, low-quality alternatives to permanent staff, to be used strictly as a last resort. Yet it is the chronic mismanagement of temporary care staff, itself driven by this attitude, that lies behind the excessive cost and variable standards associated with them.
The key problem is that, when temporary workers are viewed as a short-term stop-gap, councils will only draft them in at the last minute, which means they have little control over the quality of who they get and that the price of temporary staff is entirely at the mercy of agencies. Councils and NHS trusts have recently been exposed as paying wildly inconsistent rates for temporary social care staff.
Transformation is key
A short-term, reactive approach to temps also means that councils cannot forecast and control future agency staff costs, nor can they guarantee consistent quality across their future temporary care workforce. And with an estimated 1.7 million more adults set to require social care by 2030, it is vital that councils start planning for the future.
The key is to transform temporary workers from a short-term stop-gap into a long-term asset for Britain’s social care system.
We have already seen pioneering early examples of this approach in the private care sector. Leading care companies and charities are now building temporary workers into their long-term plans, predicting spikes in demand and creating a multi-skilled, optimally-priced ‘reserve pool’ of flexible staff that can be called up at any time.
This ‘bank’ of workers, often people on part-time hours that also work additional hours through the reserve pool, gives care organisations flexibility and access to a ready made pool of qualified, trained staff and enables them to seamlessly shrink and swell capacity in sync with demand.
At De Poel Clarity we have seen this first-hand, and are working with care providers to build pools of exceptional staff, accurately assign them relevant work, and then rate their performance through peer review – all from one system – giving employers an unparalleled window into their temporary care workforce.
Many care companies are now using new technology, systems and smarter processes to gain far greater visibility over their use of contingent workers, enabling them to instantly retrieve everything from detailed spend data, to the number of hours each temporary carer has worked, so they can immediately spot spikes in demand and identify waste.
This enhanced level of visibility is dramatically reducing cost and boosting quality because it has enabled care organisations to standardise prices across their agency supply base, taking cost out of the equation and compelling agencies to compete on the quality of their care staff alone.
Crucially, by creating multi-skilled temporary care workers, businesses have been able to transform them into a permanent asset as one care worker can now be moved across multiple areas of the organisation to fill multiple skills gaps, removing the need to constantly draft in new agency staff.
With the government now encouraging the creation of a joined-up health and social care system that is preventive rather than reactive, councils will now need to work with the NHS to forecast and reduce costs and proactively target resources to meet demand across a fragmented health and social care workforce.
If this is to succeed, hospitals and councils will need greater control and visibility over their use of temporary workers, the ability to standardise costs and to create a multi-skilled reserve supply of health and social care staff to seamlessly switch between both sectors.
Councils must begin to realise that a temporary workforce does not just mean more flexibility for care staff, but ultimately means a more flexible and responsive social care system.
Andrew Preston is the managing director of De Poel Clarity