Orkney Health and Care – the use of agency staff and the reasons why

Orkney Health and Care – the use of agency staff and the reasons why
04 November 2020

Orkney Health and Care is part of the fabric of our community and our teams of skilled carers make a world of difference to the lives of the people who use our service.

Our social care staff are highly valued and help improve the quality of the lives of our service users.

Orkney has an ageing population and the strain placed on our care and social services is growing year on year. This, combined, with a worldwide pandemic and a high level of vacancies across numerous sectors, including care, has led to the use of agency staff to ensure quality services – the kind of services you would wish your relatives to receive – are able to continue.

The level of vacancies and the effect this has

We currently have 33 vacancies across social care – 8 per cent of the workforce – a significant number.

That is why Orkney Health and Care is running a recruitment campaign in an ongoing in a bid to fill these vacant posts, which range from social care workers, social care assistants to home carers and domestics.

A number of our own care staff have taken part in the recruitment drive themselves – sharing their own personal stories on how rewarding a career path it is. These can be viewed on our social media, starting this week.

We would encourage many of our own relief staff to apply for these contracted posts, which come with the additional benefits of a level of hours, sickness, holiday and pension benefits.

There are an increasing number of people now claiming Universal Credit in Orkney as a result of the ongoing Covid-19 crisis. We would encourage and appeal to others looking for a new career to look to care – you will be helping people within your communities to lead better lives and, as said, many of our carers also speak to the rewards they gain personally after having taken up these roles.

We would appeal to anyone interested in a rewarding role in social care to look on myjobscotland for more information.

The more staff we can employ locally, the less we need to employ agency staff.

Why agency staff are used on occasions

We must stress that while we always endeavour to offer shifts to local staff first, inevitably during periods of pressure outwith our control, there will be occasions when agency staff have to be brought in to ensure services are able to continue safely and appropriately.

This is not new – historically agency staff across many sectors, including care, have been used to fill the gaps.

This is not something which happens lightly as is it more expensive to employ agency workers due to national rates which are charged to all. As all areas are required to “tighten their belts” in light of reducing Government funding allocations, agency staff are only used when absolutely necessary.

A national rate in the region of £20 per hour is paid for agency staff, alongside 45p per mile for travel to and from Orkney. It is also necessary to accommodate the agency staff while here.

Our social care assistants and home carers receive between £12.05 and £12.70 per hour which includes a ten per cent shift allowance and Distant Islands Allowance. Night staff receive a 33 per cent shift allowances which equates to £14.33 and £15.11 per hour.

Our local relief staff are asked to submit monthly availability reports to managers to allow for planning of shift coverage at our facilities throughout Orkney. On occasion, there may be times when we do not have enough available relief staff to ensure coverage.

There may also be times when relief staff can cover some of the required shifts but not all – to ensure a level of continuity of care – it may be necessary to use an agency worker, for example if a patient is required to return to a care home after a period in hospital and requires to self-isolate for 14 days as is required by national guidance. For all residents and family members, particularly those patients with dementia, is it vital for them to see a familiar face during those periods of required isolation and not a different carer across every shift.

Recently it became apparent that five residents from St Rognvald House required to be isolated after returning from hospital – as previously said this is in line with Government requirements when re-entering a care facility.

This new requirement is placing a considerable additional workload on our staff.

Orkney Health and Care have set up a special separate unit to allow for this to happen safely and appropriately.

More than 50 shifts across the Saturday and Sunday required to be covered at St Rognvald House. Of those shifts, 11 were covered by our own relief staff and four required to be filled by agency staff who were already in the county.

On this occasion, agency staff were able to offer enough hours to allow for a level of continued continuity of care, particularly important if a patient is suffering from dementia.

It has emerged (today, 3/11/20) that three local relief staff recently saw a reduction in their hours as a result of hours being allocated to agency staff who were already in the county supporting our services.

These staff have been contacted and alternative hours will be found for them over and above their normal working pattern. We will endeavour to ensure moving forward, that no locally based staff have a reduction in their hours if at all possible as a result of agency staff providing services within a small number of care facilities in Orkney.

Eight agency staff have been deployed in Orkney covering periods during the last two and a half years, and this demonstrates the challenges which have increased year on year.

Agency staff – self-isolation and their induction process

National guidance does not necessitate any quarantine or self-isolation of agency staff prior to starting work as they are tested before arrival in Orkney and thereafter weekly if they remain working within care settings. We will of course respond immediately to any future changes in this national guidance.

An induction process is followed for agency staff and induction packs provided. Given their background, agency staff have a level of experience and competency, and work alongside “in-house” employees, supported by a care plan and the usual managerial input.

Staff morale

We take very seriously any feeling of concern and want to stress that our doors are open, albeit virtually at the moment. As part of a general plan to meet the staff across Orkney Health and Care – social workers, social care staff, Allied Health Professionals, nurses and many other clinicians and professionals – Gillian Morrison, interim Chief Officer OHAC, who took up this role very recently, will be leading team discussions about the work that the various professionals undertake. Any concerns about this particular matter can be raised in these meetings. Alternatively, Gillian and Lynda Bradford, interim Head of Health and Community Care, can meet specifically with any staff groups or individuals who remain concerned about their particular situation. All social care staff were written to on Monday, November 2 to highlight the ways that we engage with our staff to address concerns and issues, and, more formally, how to raise any grievance through our staffing processes.

We place the utmost value on our care staff – who know the highest levels of care are provided to our service users.

Whistleblowing policy

The Council has a whistleblowing policy if staff have concerns. This allows the local authority the chance to take action where necessary to address concerns rather than “blowing the whistle” to the media or other external bodies.

Workers should normally raise concerns with their line manager or other senior manager in the first instance.

School Place, Kirkwall, Orkney, KW15 1NY

Telephone: 01856 873535

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