Recruiting for the Healthcare Sector in a Pandemic

Charlie Woodward, Divisional Manager for Residential Healthcare at ARC gives her perspective on recruiting for the healthcare sector in a pandemic.

Having been a recruiter in the Healthcare sector for over 15 years, I would like to say I have experienced it all, but this is my first pandemic! We all know with such an aging population, not to mention the supported living and children’s services, that there will always be the need for quality care providers. However, with the deficit in care staff available ever-growing, our focus is now on filling this gap. However the challenges are huge and there are many obstacles to overcome.

We have already seen a significant reduction in EU workers over the last year as they chose to leave the UK, and we have less and less overseas staff joining us due to the restriction of free movement under Brexit. Working in the healthcare sector during a pandemic is incredibly heart wrenching. Our candidates are caring for the most vulnerable, who could not only be facing dealing with the symptoms of COVID19 but also having had all their human contact taken away from them. In addition, the care staff who soak up this emotional turmoil can often work 12-15 hour days, it’s exhausting.
This draws us to the subject of how we attract candidates. We have candidates new to the market as they have lost jobs, been furloughed or just want to contribute to a more fulfilling role – but with everything mentioned above, it’s a quiet hard sell. If and when we manage to speak to a candidate that will work in the conditions stated with national minimum wage, we are now faced with even more hurdles. This includes reference checks from companies that no longer exist and a lack of face- to- face training. We have had to move all training to online and we are relying on our clients to induct candidates in their in house training such as moving and handling. Some candidates have reported a loss in confidence as they haven’t had the face – to – face training that we deliver, and pride ourselves on.

An increase in wages would most certainly help to attract more candidates, but a pay rise would need to be across the board. The average care worker salary is £17500, whilst the average NHS salary is £20000. As an agency, if we increase pay rates then we need to increase our charge rates – and if only a handful of agencies did this, then many clients would take their requirements to the agencies that haven’t.

What needs to happen is that care staff rates are bought in line with NHS pay rates, this needs to come directly from the government, or else companies will continue to pay as little as possible. We have all struggled financially and the care sector will need to cope with budgets being reduced and services being cut, so a pay increase will not be top of the agenda.

Could the government perhaps subsidise a pay increase? Only time will tell.

In more positive news however, the proposed changes to the Department of Health and Social Cares’ Health and Care Bill outlines plans to build on the incredible collaborations seen through Covid and ultimately shape a system that’s better able to serve people in a fast-changing world. We have seen collaboration across health and social care at a pace and scale unimaginable even a little over a year ago.

Fortunately, the care staff that already work so hard and tirelessly will keep going as they have delivered outstanding care to those in need while at the same time radically changing ways of working, reducing bureaucracy and becoming more integrated.. A quote that I have stood by for many years is that you don’t do this job for money, you do it because you care! As do we – even with a reduced workforce and challenging situations we will still find the right candidates for our clients who we work hard for every day. It shouldn’t have to be this difficult, when a pay rise would eliminate a lot of problems.

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