StellarCare NW LTD is a domiciliary care company in the Northwest of England and was regulated by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) in February 2020. In March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic dominated the news and saw the Nation catapulted into a national lockdown, the first seen in the United Kingdom 1918. Opening a care agency during a pandemic was very challenging although, it did offer one advantage in that StellarCare NW did not know any different and, rode the waves with open eyes and no preconceived expectations.
Two years on, I feel proud that we came out of the pandemic relatively unscathed and, provided the best care we could during unpresented times. Looking back, I can summarise some of the main challenged faced which, I am sure will be shared by many:
• Staff sickness – the unpredictability of staff was the main cause of disruption. It was difficult to accept new clients for fear of not being able to provide care.
• Staff recruitment – it was important to have enough staff to cover care calls when a covid outbreak occurred within the team. In 2020/2021 due to the furlough scheme, recruitment had increased to 70%. There was a genuine need for people to support their local communities and, consider a change in career. The opportunity for people who had always wanted to be a ‘nurse’ were now able to don a uniform and PPE and fulfil their lifelong ambition however, 2002/2022 saw people return to their jobs and leave the care industry leaving many unfilled vacancies. In addition, Brexit saw its European workforce return to their native land, further compounding demands in care staff.
• Increased staff pressures to work longer hours – the quick turnover of staff placed more pressure on those loyal employees to cover sickness and employees that had now left. The risk of staff burnout was at an all time high along with it, the risk of long-term sickness.
• Increased demand for care – The pandemic saw a surge in clients requiring care at home. The NHS were keen to discharge all patients that were not critical causing a bottle neck scenario, for due to the staffing crisis, nursing homes and care staff could not take the patients creating huge backlog in all health care setting across the UK.
• The uncertainty – it was evident that the Health & Social Care landscape was changing, but the lack of information and lack of consistency made it very difficult for a business to forward plan. A disconcerting time for any business owner.
Reasons for applying for a sponsorship license
Following the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union and the fallout of Brexit, all companies who wish to employ skilled workers from outside the United Kingdom who do not have the right to work or live in the UK will need a Licence to comply with the law.In September 2021 StellarCare NW made the decision to apply to the Home Office for a Sponsorship licence, this would enable the employment of migrant workers for 3 years on a skilled worker visa. The application took 8 weeks to be approved, and in December saw the first migrant worker joining the StellarCare NW team. Since January 2022, StellarCare NW has employed 15 migrant workers and increased the hours of provided care from 400 to 2000 per week, helping to meet the demands for home care in the community.
Across England, numbers of unfilled jobs are rising month on month, from 6% in April to more than 10% in September 2022, and despite increased government funding and investment, the figures are still rising, it is no wonder that there has been significant increase in applications to the Home Office from the care sector.According to recent government figures, Skilled work, which accounts for 60% of work-related visas granted, saw the largest increase in visa numbers, up by 19% in 2021. The new Skilled worker routes introduced in late 2020 (Skilled work, Skilled worker Health and Care, and Intra-company transfer) accounted for 55,053 or 32% of the total work-related visas granted. The rise in figures has seen the Government develop a road map until 2024, detailing how they intend to make the application process easier recognising the need for migrant workers to help fill some of the vacancy gaps in the health and social care sector.
The recruitment of migrant workers has been positive from a staffing perspective however, it has not come without its challenges. The majority of employees by StellarCare NW are from India and, although been in the UK studying for a time, their awareness of British Values and culture caused some concern. There was the assumption that migrant staff knew how to make a cup of tea, or prepare a breakfast of porridge and toast however, the reality was they simply did not. Routines were not familiar to them and culturally, the approach to client was not what the client expected.
The main challenge faced however, is male carers providing personal care to older women in society. The expectation of white female care staff tending to their needs very much exists although, in reality the care workforce is becoming diverse and multicultural. It is, therefore, important that care companies look at ways to integrate migrant workers into the community changing such expectations. This, however, will not occur overnight!
The fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated an already fragile health and social care sector and its workforce. The demand for home care is at an all time high while recruitment is at an all time low. One solution to meet the demands in care is to employ migrant workers. The government are looking to make the application process much easier encouraging care companies like StellarCare NW to apply to solve their staffing issues. While the employment of migrant workers does increase staffing levels, companies will have to adapt their training and induction to ensure British values and culture is maintained and implement long term strategies to change perspectives on the role of male carers in domiciliary care.