POOR pay for care workers is partly driving the bed blocking crisis gripping the county’s hospitals, it has been claimed.
Stewart Messer, chief operating officer for Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust, suggested pay and conditions for domiciliary care workers – who support people in their own homes – was a driver behind delays within the social care system which was preventing people being discharged from hospital when medical treatment was no longer required.
Between April and January this year, the number of days lost due to delayed transfers of care the Trust has experienced increased by more than 62 per cent compared to the previous 12 months from 12,326 to 19,987 and delays within social care are being widely blamed.
Patients can be discharged by three pathways, the first of which is to their own homes with support from a domiciliary care worker who helps the individual with household tasks, washing and dressing and other activities allowing them to maintain their independence.
But Mr Messer told a board meeting last week the domiciliary care route was at saturation point due to difficulties recruiting and retaining staff.
“People in this sector can earn more money working in Sainsbury’s or Tesco so it’s a very fragile or weak service at the moment.”
He added: “These domiciliary carers are provided through the private sector and the majority of them are paid the minimum wage and offered zero hours contracts so there’s no entitlement to sick or annual leave benefits.
“It’s a predominantly female workforce so at Easter, half-term or school holidays staff take time off, even though there’s no official shutdown period.
“Pathway one is working to 100 per cent capacity given the restrictions on their current resource.”
The warning echoes that of the United Kingdom Homecare Association, which represents domiciliary care providers.
Colin Angel, UKHCA policy director, said unless underfunding of homecare services was addressed the sector would struggle to recruit and retain careworkers.
“Ultimately, the care market will become commercially unsustainable for the providers who deliver most of the homecare purchased by the state within the UK.”
Worcestershire County Council pays £15.80 an hour on average for homecare, just above the UKHCA minimum level of £15.74 and the best in the West Midlands.
The authority has recommended an increase in fees for 2015/16 to reflect the rise in the minimum wage and are working with providers to develop a system to ensure they are paying it to staff.
Coun Sheila Blagg, responsible for adult social care on the authority, said: “The county council is aware of concerns about home care workforce capacity here, as there is nationally, but it is a particular problem in Worcestershire because it has comparatively low unemployment.
“We are considering how to work in partnership with providers and other commissioners to build capacity and make best use of the available workforce.”