Exclusive: Fears for elderly as staffing crisis hits homes

FEARS are growing that the most vulnerable people in Yorkshire are not getting the care they need because of a staffing crisis in care homes across the region.

New figures show a third of all workers have no qualifications and more homes are relying on temporary staff than ever before.

Experts and front-line staff say there is a real concern that the chronic shortage of full-time qualified staff in the region is starting to impact on the care that elderly people receive.

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And with the elderly population in Yorkshire rocketing, with 50 per cent more people aged over 65 expected to be living in North Yorkshire alone by 2020, new measures are being urged to tackle the problem before it spirals out of control.

The most recent statistics by the National Minimum Data Set for Social Care, which gathers information about the social care sector, show the number of direct carers, managers, supervisors and care professionals working without qualifications in Yorkshire is above the national average, while 33 per cent of all staff have none at all – although it is claimed this figure could be slightly overstated as it does not take into account non- social care-related qualifications.

Experts say the poor salaries and benefit packages in the independent sector are putting people off going into the care industry as a career option and as a result more temporary staff, often coming from overseas, are now working in care homes than ever before.

As Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspectors do not currently assess whether staff are full-time or not, it is feared the rising numbers of temporary staff are just the tip of the iceberg.

Shadow Health Secretary John Healey, the Labour MP for Wenworth & Dearne in South Yorkshire, said: "If care homes are cutting corners and cutting costs by using temporary, untrained staff, and standards of care suffer, the Care Quality Commission should step in to sort out the problem."

Sandra Anderson, the manager of the award-winning Millings care home in Bedale, North Yorkshire, which refuses to employ temporary staff, said: "I have worked in this industry for 26 years and it is the worst I have known with the amount of temporary staff being used.

"Agencies are now ringing us here every week to try and offer us temporary staff because they know how many care homes are using their services."

Age Concern says using a high proportion of agency staff could affect the quality of care received by older people in care homes as it makes it more difficult for relationships to be built.

It is especially bad for people who have dementia as a high staff turnover can cause them further confusion and disorientation.

James Player, deputy chief officer of Age Concern York, said: "We have been made aware of this problem internally, hearing from carers and relatives that they are not always seeing the same person providing care.

"I would say the CQC need to look at this for their quality inspections."

In council-run care homes there are fewer difficulties attracting full-time qualified staff owing to better employment packages on offer. But in the private sector the problem has been growing over the past five years.

Mike Pagdham, the chair of the Independent Care Group, which represents care providers across North Yorkshire, said: "Temporary staff are used because in spite of employment levels going down solidly it is still getting quite challenging to encourage people into social care.

"But demand is rising, so we need to meet it somehow.

"It is not a question of putting a closed sign on the door. People deserve to be paid right in social care."

A Department of Health spokesperson said: "Care providers must ensure that all staff – whether they are permanent or temporary – are qualified and competent to carry out their duties in their care home."