Support for staff during pandemic must continue into recovery
Workforce skills and retention are a long-term concern for health and social care and a key focus for Future Care Capital.
A Skills for Care report last October highlighted that the estimated turnover rate of directly employed social care staff was over 30%, equivalent to about 430,000 leavers over the year.
Most don’t quit social care altogether and around 66% of posts are filled from other roles within the sector. But the ‘churn’ of staff has a negative impact on the service provided. Staff turnover levels in the health service are not quite as bad but the pandemic has taken its toll on staff.
Across both health and social care there is an increasing focus on ‘workforce wellbeing’ to improve staff retention, with a number of different organisations operating in this space.
Meanwhile earlier this year the Future Care Capital Care Tech Landscape Review featured some of the start-ups using technology to benefit both those providing social care and those receiving care at home.
Against this backdrop, Future Care Capital set up a conversation with one of the companies focusing on health and social care workforce support. Here Peter Bloomfield, Future Care Capital head of policy and research, talks to Alessandro Alagna, Director of Talent for Care.
Talent for Care’s latest programme, Recovery Champions, was created as a result of the pandemic but aims to prepare for the recovery by focusing on workforce wellbeing and building resilience in frontline staff through a change in culture.
Lucy Jenkins, frontline healthcare worker
Peter Bloomfield: How about starting by telling us about Talent for Care’s work and how technology plays such an important role?
Alessandro Alagna: So our focus is workforce wellbeing and enabling health and care organisations to invest in their workforce.
The innovative part is using technology to reach out to the frontline and support staff. We’ve done that through the pandemic and we aim to continue along that road.
And yes, the technology is an essential part of it, and it’s become easier to engage people. Eighteen months ago we would have struggled to do what we do now. We can get ITU nurses, domiciliary carers, care home managers or A&E staff together on a Zoom or Teams call, a WhatsApp group and a closed Facebook group. So we’re not talking about revolutionary technology and it’s early days. But it’s about making the very best use of the technology available.
Just to add some context: In a survey of 1000 nurses by Nursing Times in March this year, almost two-thirds felt their mental health had deteriorated during the pandemic, and that wellbeing support was not good enough. We need to listen to that and act.
Nurse staff turnover is around 12 per cent which is better than it used to be. But for care workers the turnover is around 35% which is extraordinary. How can you run a service with that?
Peter: So how has the pandemic affected your work?
Alessandro: One of our most popular programmes at the moment, Recovery Champions, was conceived as a response to the pandemic. It goes without saying that the last year or so has been very difficult, but the way I see it, the pandemic has happened, so let’s take it as an opportunity.
The measures to deal with COVID have become a real catalyst for change. People have had to embrace technology much faster than they otherwise would.
Imagine trying to engage 20 staff in an acute hospital at the peak of a pandemic and get them in one place. What chance would you have? Yet thanks to the technology we’ve achieved it with our programmes and 80-90% of participants have shown up every time.
People talk about ‘virtual’ but it’s actually a very real environment. Also part of the appeal is that staff welcome the fact that we are investing in them.
It’s hard to create a support network that can cope with additional external pressures like those we experienced with the pandemic. But if we continue to innovate in the way we have done I’m convinced the future is bright.
The long-term aim is not to return to the old normal, with burnout and tough working conditions that are not sustainable. Let’s strive for something better.
Achieving that transformation in the way we look after our frontline teams in the long term will need more sophisticated technology. And our use of the technology will need to be more sophisticated. But I believe we can do it. I’m really passionate about making technology more widely available to the workforce
Peter: I’m interested to hear how you access front line workers and then start working with them?
Alessandro: Accessing staff has to be top down and it starts with the chief executive. You need buy-in from the senior management, otherwise the transformation that’s needed has no chance of succeeding.
Once we link up with staff we focus on creating engagement. The initial feedback has been extremely positive. At the end of the first 12 weeks we carry out an anonymous survey and ask people about their sense of belonging to the organisation.
Its amazing to see how that sense of belonging is significantly enhanced by the end of the programme. For example, the programme I mentioned in an acute setting found a 72% improvement on ‘sense of belonging’ to the trust among staff. That’s an immediate temperature check and achieving such an improvement is really significant.
The feedback has been great. Here’s what Wendy, a healthcare manager and Recovery Champion had to say about the course:
“I have been able to take a look at things from a different angle and have used that approach with others in the workplace. I am able to take a walk around what I see in front of me and see it again, but from a different vantage point. I believe I am able to help others around me do the same. I am better equipped to accept what’s happened and look at how I can use it to draw strength and to develop.”
Peter: There seems to be a balance to strike between the wellbeing side and the training side. How do you see that divide?
Alessandro: Where you draw the line between well-being and training is fascinating. We call it experiential learning and there’s no doubt there is a learning element in the wellbeing content. But it’s all about learning as it applies to that particular individual and their development. That’s the starting point and then the focus shifts towards supporting them to help others. But it’s about them first.
What we are interested in is workforce support and personal development, with retention as an outcome. Sustainability of workforce is another outcome.
Peter: How do people access the programme?
Alessandro: Most use laptops or iPads or tablets, but it’s available on mobile as well. In a way it doesn’t matter – the point is the engagement. Once you have people involved you take them on a 12 week journey of personal development, support and improved wellbeing – and the method of delivery is not so important.
We’ve had an intensive care nurse access the programme on their phone in a corridor and then go back into ITU. But having said that, although it works on mobile, ideally someone should have a larger screen and be in a room.
Peter: At Future Care Capital we believe technology can be a force for good. But we’ve heard about some negative consequences of introducing technology. For example the use of AI to triage cases means all the straightforward work is taken off staff, and they are left with all the difficult tasks. That has a significant impact on their workload and how hard their job is.
Alessandro: That definitely prompts some thinking and I say why can’t we start thinking about it now and prepare, rather than wait until it’s too late?
Ultimately the approach we’re using for recovery from the pandemic can become more proactive – and more successful – if we can envisage challenges like the one you describe.
These issues are probably not that far ahead of us so let’s get ready. By introducing new technology you don’t want to duplicate that intensity for staff.
Everything we at Talent for Care are doing in terms of the pandemic could be applied to AI – it’s about supporting people through major change.
I’d be very interested in engaging with early adopters of technology as it comes through and going on a journey of discovery that means we’ll all be more prepared.