Fair grounds for attraction

Where there are high proportions of older people in local populations, the recruitment and retention of care workers is particularly important. Julie Griffiths finds out how Blackpool Council  has developed two schemes to make the job more attractive for existing and future staff.

Blackpool, like many places across the UK, has struggled to recruit sufficient social care workers. Yet the demand for some roles, such as domiciliary care workers, is greater because of the high numbers of older people – there are about 13,500 residents over the age of 75. And demand is likely to increase as the size of this group is projected to rise by almost 12 per cent by 2028.

With this in mind, Blackpool Council has launched two innovative pilot projects: one to increase the skills of the existing workforce, the other aimed at attracting young people into the sector.

The first initiative involves developing the role of home care workers by creating a new generic worker post. This new job straddles health and social care for palliative care clients.

Generic workers provide clients with some health care that would usually be delivered by district nurses, such as wound dressing, infection control and catheter care. This is in addition to the normal support domiciliary carers provide, such as helping with personal care or shopping.

The initiative has been running since the start of the year, when four generic workers, who were recruited from the existing workforce of home carers, began training.

The training programme lasted more than six weeks to ensure the generic workers had clinical skills in areas such as nutrition, bowel care and hygiene. Each of them spent six weeks job  shadowing district nurses across two GP practices as well as a day of training in palliative care at a local hospice.

Maureen Daly, home care team manager at Blackpool Council, manages the carers on the pilot. She says that although three out of four of the appointments had no previous clinical  experience, this has not been a problem so far.

“The generic workers have not been fazed by what they’ve learned and the feedback from district nurses has been excellent,” she explains.

The generic workers started seeing clients in mid-February. They have fortnightly meetings with their team leader and a district nurse to address any problems. And there are regular reviews with senior managers at Blackpool Council and Fylde Primary Care Trust which is a partner in the initiative.

Jackie Robinson, one of the generic workers, says her job satisfaction has greatly improved since she started working on the pilot. Many of the frustrations she used to experience have been removed.

“We used to see things that needed doing and we had to get in touch with the district nurse. We couldn’t see to dressings ourselves. Now we have the training to deal with it,” she says.

The six-month pilot has brought clients many benefits. For example, although pressure sores can break out within a matter of hours, clients used to be reliant on a nurse providing treatment. Now, generic workers can deal with such problems immediately.

District nurses also benefit from a reduced workload. And the professional relationship between health and social care has also improved, says Robinson.

“It’s not us and them as it was previously. There used to be a bit of a stigma about being a home carer. Nurses would think, ‘you’re only a carer’. The pilot has helped change that,” she adds.

Another six home carers are about to be trained as generic workers and the pilot may be extended to cover highly dependent services as well as end of life care.

Maureen Daly says the pilot has prompted huge interest from other home carers, keen to learn new skills and take on more responsibility. She hopes the pilot will be rolled out because it could help recruitment and retention.

“We’re trying to raise the profile of home carers because, although we’ve no problems recruiting at this time, we did at one point. There is a benefit in linking with colleagues from the PCT and giving our staff the recognition from the public and other professionals,” says Daly.

Increasing awareness of home carers is also central to a second pilot being run in Blackpool among young people.

The NHS and Social Care Cadet Scheme is designed to give students the opportunity to gain work experience in health and social care. Blackpool Council hopes that, as a result, some of the students will pursue careers in social services.

The two-year pilot is funded jointly by social services and Fylde PCT. It started last September when 20 cadets were chosen after three days of interviewing young people aged between 16 and 20 who applied from Blackpool and the Fylde College.

All the cadets who are studying for their NVQ 2 and 3 in health and social care spend two days in college and three days on placement. Half of them work in social services while the others gain experience in a local hospital.

After nine weeks, the cadets switch so that both sets complete placements in health and social care.

While the cadets are in social services, they are matched with experienced home carers who act as mentors, encouraging them to take an active part in delivering personal care to clients.  Cadets work on a rota – 7am to 1.30pm or 4pm to 10pm – and are given an allowance of £20 a week, providing attendance is good.

Just two cadets have dropped out since last September and the remaining 18 have maintained a near perfect attendance rate.

 Janice Howarth, home care team manager who heads the Care Cadet scheme in social services, says it has been an eye-opener for some students. Many of the cadets had been unaware that care  took place outside hospitals when they joined the initiative, she says. Now some prefer home care work to the acute sector.

“When we interviewed for the scheme, a lot of them said they wanted to be a nurse or a paramedic. Now they’re changing their mind. About half of them have said they would like to do social care,” says Howarth.

The scheme will, she hopes, grow the workforce of tomorrow by educating young people about the type of work available in social services. This will, in turn, encourage them to pursue careers they may never have otherwise considered.

Howarth says that many of the cadets have told friends about their experiences of social services, helping to spread awareness of the pilot and go some way to addressing old fashioned ideas of what social care is all about.

“People think care workers are the old mop and bucket brigade. We’re trying to improve our image. This is such a brilliant scheme – it’s uplifting our services and putting them in a more professional light,” she says.

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