UK care providers struggling with staff shortages because of coronavirus are pressing for urgent changes in legislation to allow furloughed workers from industries such as entertainment and leisure to provide temporary cover without financial penalty.
In a letter to Boris Johnson, the prime minister, industry lobby groups whose members care for 1.2m people across the UK have called for legislation to be clarified so that anyone willing to work in the National Health Service, care homes or social care can be given full employment.
Four lobby groups, including Care England and Scottish Care, have asked that workers in the leisure and entertainment industries receive the 80 per cent of salary payment they receive under the government’s job retention scheme and be allowed to do paid care work at no penalty.
Care providers fear that if furloughed workers take other jobs they might breach their employment contracts and face sanctions.
Martin Green, chief executive of Care England, which represents more than 3,700 social care providers, warned the prime minister that the industry was “already facing critical shortages of staff because of the requirement to self-isolate if a family member has or is suspected of having Covid-19”.
“We will face even greater staff shortage in the weeks ahead. We are writing to request that you clarify in legislation that anyone wishing to work in the provision of care including the NHS or any form of social care, will be permitted to take up paid employment in the NHS and with social care providers, even if they are currently furloughed in other industries and receiving 80 per cent of their wage,” the letter said.
Executives in other sectors have suggested similar arrangements. Richard Burnett, chief executive of the Road Haulage Association, said such measures were needed to enable drivers who normally worked in the food service industry to shift over to transporting supermarket stock or to work in the consumer goods supply chain, without being forced to leave long-term employment.
“They could work almost as agency drivers to ensure the nation is fed. As an industry, transport is under immense pressure,” he said.
Earlier this week, airline cabin crew from easyJet and Virgin Atlantic were asked to volunteer to support doctors and nurses at new temporary field hospitals being built around the UK.
Coronavirus has badly affected elderly patients in care homes in Spain and Italy and people in the UK sector fear that they will be next. Care home operators say a growing number of their residents are not being tested and not counted in the Covid-19 numbers as their deaths are often registered as chest infections or pneumonia.
On Sunday, Robert Jenrick, the communities secretary, said that every care home had or would receive a delivery of personal protective equipment. But care providers say they have not yet received sufficient quantities of masks, hand sanitiser or tests for coronavirus, and that crucial supplies were being diverted to the NHS.
Robert Kilgour, founder of Renaissance Care, which runs 15 care homes housing 700 elderly residents in Scotland, said that about 12 per cent of its 1,100 staff were at present off sick. He warned that nursing shortages in care homes risked reducing the number of admissions allowed, putting even more pressure on the NHS.
“There is a growing feeling that the care home sector is unappreciated and even that care home staff are being treated as cannon fodder and second-class citizens,” he said. “Sadly, I feel that a breaking point is fast approaching.”
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