Care home residents ‘dying alone’ as staffing levels ‘dangerously low’, research shows

Unison said employees are ‘struggling to cope’ and the care sector is ‘desperately short’ of workers

Joe Middleton
Wednesday 24 November 2021 00:16
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<p>Unison surveyed 1,637 employees in England, Wales and Northern Ireland between October 13 and November 4 (pictured: stock image) </p>

Unison surveyed 1,637 employees in England, Wales and Northern Ireland between October 13 and November 4 (pictured: stock image)

Care home residents are being neglected because staffing levels are at a “dangerously low” level, new research has shown.

People currently in residential care are dying alone as a lack of staff means they cannot sit with them during the final hours of their lives, according to the survey by Unison.

Respondents to the survey said that the situation is so severe that some people are not getting regular washes and some are not getting dressed until the afternoon.

They also said that care is “depressingly rushed” and its quality is declining, with “unsafe” staffing levels on both day and night shifts.

Around a third of care workers (31 per cent) said that the inadequate levels of staffing were affecting the quality of care and said it is leaving carers feeling “exhausted, angry and upset”.

A significant proportion of those who answered the Unison survey (67 per cent) said they are considering leaving the care sector.

Almost all respondents (97 per cent) said their employer is experiencing staffing shortages, with burnout, overwork and low pay among the main reasons cited.

The union surveyed 1,637 employees in England, Wales and Northern Ireland between 13 October and 4 November who work in care homes, or help people at home or in supported living.

Suzanne, a residential care worker, described staff levels as “dangerously low” at times, with care “well below acceptable standards”.

The 40-year-old said: “I’ve had to leave residents in tears because I had to care for someone else who also needed me.”

The survey also indicated that 47 per cent agreed with the statement that shortages are having a negative impact on care, and 31 per cent agreed that staffing levels are also dangerously low and getting worse.

A fifth (20 per cent) said their workplace is managing despite the shortages, while 1 per cent said their workplace is fine and is experiencing no serious staffing shortages.

Unison general secretary Christina McAnea said: “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.”

Earlier this month the government launched a recruitment campaign in a bid to fill more than 100,000 social care vacancies.

Vic Rayner, chief executive of the National Care Forum, said the Unison survey “makes for very tough reading”, with staff doing an “incredible job” as they face increasing pressure.

She said: “It is not good enough that the Government continues to ignore this very real crisis. Last month Unison and the NCF provided a joint call to government outlining a call for an immediate retention bonus for staff and increase in pay.

“By ignoring this call and refusing to take action, the very real risks to people and communities are laid bare.”

A Department of Health and Social care spokesperson said: “Everyone deserves high quality and compassionate care, and we are grateful for the dedication and tireless work of social care staff throughout the pandemic.

“Care homes and home care providers are now benefiting from the new £162.5 million workforce retention and recruitment fund to help ease staffing pressures.

“In addition, the government will invest at least £500 million to develop and support the care workforce as part of our £5.4 billion to reform social care.”

Additional reporting by PA

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