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Lancashire County Council bid to tackle care staff shortages

LANCASHIRE County Council has asked the companies that provide care in people’s own homes if they want to be paid more for their work – in an attempt to help ease a staffing crisis in the sector.

The authority took the unusual step of writing to the 48 main firms that supply homecare services on its behalf in order to remind them of a clause in their contracts under which they are able to request a so-called “price review” – if they have encountered increases in their costs which could not have been foreseen when they originally bid for the work.

In the letter, the providers are actively advised by adult services director Tony Pounder to consider seeking such a review and to explain how they would use any uplift in the hourly rate they are paid “to improve recruitment and retention of staff”.

Mr Pounder said that the authority thought it “reasonable for…providers to argue that the current combination of factors which are making staff recruitment and retention so very difficult” was justifiable grounds for making a request for more money.  

He added that there are “major challenges” in staffing homecare services, both in Lancashire and nationwide.

Meanwhile, County Hall has also contacted all of the people who receive homecare in Lancashire to warn them that staffing difficulties faced by the firms contracted to support them could mean that their care times may have to be changed or that they will be visited by different carers.  

The authority also told residents that some of them may be asked by their homecare provider if relatives or friends could assist them “for a temporary period” if the firm had staff shortages.

However, there is no suggestion that anybody will go without the care they need and the letter stresses that people should not be “anxious or concerned”. It adds that the county council and the homecare companies working in Lancashire are doing all they can to avoid any disruption to normal routines.

The correspondence comes amid a surge in demand for homecare services as fewer families seek residential care for their loved ones.  

Last month, the number of hours of care delivered at home to residents in the Lancashire County Council area leapt by 15 per cent compared to December 2019, before the pandemic struck.

In September, the authority was forecasting a £7.1m overspend on “care at home services” this financial year.

Conservative cabinet member for adult services Graham Gooch said that was important to be candid with those receiving care – and fair with those who provide it.

“We want to keep the providers on side, give them what they need, and keep the service there for everybody,” he said.

The authority has what is known as a “framework” agreement with the 48 companies it uses for homecare services.   That means that they are the county council’s first port of call when it needs to secure packages of home help for residents.

The price to be paid to them is agreed when the companies are put on the framework. However, if those firms are unable to meet all of the authority’s ever-changing needs, County Hall is forced to turn to other providers, which can name their price and so sometimes offer their staff better terms – putting more pressure on those firms on the framework.

Jimmy Anyon, director of the Central Lancashire branch of SureCare, which is a framework homecare provider for the county council in South Ribble, said that the option of asking for a price increase from the authority was a welcome one – although being reminded of it was rather unexpected.

“I was gobsmacked – I think every provider was.  I’ve always known there was a clause in the contract, but to have a very strange webinar [at which the council says] ‘challenge your prices’ was a bit of a relief, [as for] the last six or seven years we have had minimal increases,” Mr. Anyon said.

Margaret MacDonald, regional operations manager for Guardian Homecare, which provides services for the county council – including “crisis” care in Central Lancashire – said that recruitment challenges were putting the firm under “a lot of pressure”.

“There just doesn’t seem to be a lot of people coming through and the demand for services is really increasing.

“Our retention is good – we have got support workers who have been here 15 years, but you always seem to get this turnover where people don’t want to stay.

“Homecare is a tough job – you are driving around to people’s homes, you work unsupervised and so, in terms of responsibility, it is tough and I think it takes a certain kind of person,” Ms MacDonald said.