By Philippa Shirtcliffe, QCS, Head of Care Quality
The UK may have escaped a no-deal Brexit, but even with an agreement secured, care providers across the UK are not necessarily breathing a huge sigh of relief. If research conducted by the Nuffield Trust, which was released before Christmas, is any- thing to go by, it suggests – that even with a Brexit agreement in the bag – they could be in for a rough ride.
The authors of the study, which includes academics from Oxford, Sheffield and the University of Michigan – conclude that the future for the UK health sector looks “perilously uncertain”. Take the social care sector, for instance. The report authors forecast that that the care sector “will immediately find itself blocked from recruiting staff from the EU because of a new unilateral migration policy…”
Secondly, the study says that “any prolonged economic slowdown (brought about by Brexit) that leads to lower living standards and a squeeze on public spending” could directly affect the health of the pub- lic. While the report doesn’t specifically spell out the ramifications for care, it is likely that a sector, which has often been named the ‘Cinderella Service’, will be worse off in the long-term. In addition to Brexit, the sizeable impact that Covid has had on the economy, while not explored in the study, is also likely to have negative consequences for the care sector.
But back to the issue of recruitment. What I think the government needs to realise, is that according to figures from Age UK, there are 110,000 unfilled vacancies in the care sector. There is considerable churn too. The numbers reveal that “three in 10 care staff leave their jobs each year”. With 130,000 new frontline workers required annually just to keep the sector on an even keel, the sector needs the 110,000 EU care workers, who currently work in our care homes and in domiciliary care, more than ever. At the very least, the government should perform
a policy U-turn and class all care workers as high skilled workers, which of course they are. This would not only mean more UK-based workers entering the profession, but would ensure that care staff from the continent would be granted work visas too.
Whatever action the government takes, it will need to act quickly if it is to plug a gaping hole in recruitment that if left unchecked is only going to grow wider. Why? Because stats from the Nuffield Trust reveal that fewer people from abroad are choosing to work in Britain. The Nuffield Trust says that between the fourth quarter of 2019 and the second quarter of 2020, for example, “National Insurance Number registrations both for EU and non-EU applicants, decreased from 190,509 to 55,428.”
While post-Brexit migration policy is an issue that only the government can decide on, there are lots of preparatory steps that individual care providers can take. At Quality Compliance Systems (QCS), a leading provider of policies, guidance and best practice content, we have been helping over 5,000 care providers to prepare for the challenges posed by Brexit, Covid-19 and Winter planning– all of which are constantly evolving. We have done so by providing a raft of curated guidance, which aims to break down complex jargon and translate it into a set of easily digestible guidance and fact sheets, which in turn feed into even more robust contingency plans.
As Head of Care Quality at QCS, while I cannot speak for every care provider on our books, I can say that the majority have been highly pro- active in bolstering their Brexit contingency strategies. The key point when drawing up such a plan is never to consider it the finished article. At QCS, whenever the government issues new guidance we make sense of it, put it into simple language and, most importantly, alert the provider of the change.
But even with the help of a provider like QCS, care services need to continue to be vigilant and circumspect. Indeed, even with a deal being struck, it seems that a number of rules and regulations are still being ironed out. Indeed, the devil is in the details, and right now there is very little of it. This means that care providers won’t necessarily feel the full impact of Brexit for many weeks, or even months. The best antidote in the meantime therefore is to stress-test everything in the care service. For instance, if a German-built lift in a care home breaks, how long would it take for new parts to arrive and for engineers to fix it in the post-Brexit world that we find ourselves living in?
Secondly, care providers need to also include third-party suppliers in their contingency plans. Do you know that, for instance, that your food supplier will not be affected by the monumental changes brought about by Brexit? And if you run a domiciliary care agency, can you rely on the ‘meal on wheels’ company you work with to run the same service as before? But, I think that in order to truly prepare for the worst case scenario, residential care providers need to not just stock up on essential foods, but also store basic ingredients so that they can make their own bread, if there are food shortages.
Another crucial task, which is sometimes overlooked, is stocktaking. The challenge for many care homes, especially in a Pandemic, has been finding the time to carry out regular inventory checks. But they need to be at the heart of any contingency plan, especially if Brexit leads to shortages in the coming months.
Finally, collaboration and co-production, two areas in which care providers excel in, are paramount. Care services need to forge even close links with their community. They need to work together with local authorities, primary and secondary care services and, most importantly, alongside other care providers in their area in order to provide outstanding care to service users.
Take basic supplies for instance. In the just-in-time economy that Britain is used to, there has never been any need for care homes to build large in-house storage facilities. With many medical supplies com- ing from the EU, Brexit has changed that. But it’s simply not feasible for care homes to build bigger storage units. To store a few month’s supply of incontinence pants for 100 service users alone might take up two or three rooms. That said, if care providers, GPs, and local authorities work as one, they can not only overcome storage issues, but ensure that every provider in the local area has enough to go around.
Indeed, if there is one shaft of light peeping through the gloom, it is that while a post-Brexit world appears daunting, it pales in comparison to the challenges care professionals now face in the pandemic. During the crisis, the courage, resilience and resourcefulness care workers have shown has proved that they can overcome any emergency – Brexit included.
To find out more about QCS’s policies and procedures, contact our compliance advisors on 0333-405-3333 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.