Steve Cardownie: Care homes facing Brexit ‘emergency’

79 per cent of homes are finding it difficult to recruit nurses. Picture: John Devlin
79 per cent of homes are finding it difficult to recruit nurses. Picture: John Devlin
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Today I will be attending my mother’s birthday party at her nursing home in the Highlands. She is 94 today and thanks to the care and dedication of the staff, still relatively hale and hearty. Every time I visit I never fail to be impressed by their work ethic, their desire to do their best to ensure that those in their care receive the attention and support they deserve.

Most of the staff are young women and some are from Eastern Europe, mainly Poland, and unless action is taken it may be plunged into a crisis of desperate proportions.

The sector is facing a “real emergency”, according to Scottish Care, with care homes set to close unless appropriate steps are taken within a year.

The Care Home Workforce Data Report states that 79 per cent of homes are finding it difficult to recruit nurses, with 25 per cent also saying that they have recruitment problems for other front-line staff and 35 per cent struggling to find managers. Staff vacancies are reported in 77 per cent of establishments and the average annual staff turnover is 22 per cent – an increase of 5 per cent from a couple of years ago.

Women account for 80 per cent of the workforce and the number of non-EU nationals working in the health and social care system has increased by 40 per cent in the last three years.

Recruitment of young people is falling short with only 10 per cent of the workforce under the age of 25 and approximately one third over the age of 50, according to a report by the charity Skills for Care.

The Bield housing-and-care charity recently announced that it was set to close its 12 residential homes for the elderly in Scotland due to financial difficulties.

As a result, more than 170 elderly people must find alternative accommodation. This prompted Donald Macaskill, chief executive of Scottish Care, to urge everyone “with interests in the sector” to take urgent action.

A care home operator in Edinburgh told me that when they now advertise a vacancy they get about five telephone enquiries with only one presenting themselves for interview, whereas a couple of years ago they would have had around five people attending interviews. The operator was firmly of the belief that Brexit has had a detrimental effect on their ability to find staff because of the uncertainty surrounding workers ability to stay in Scotland.

Aneta, a care worker from Poland, said that she loved the work and wanted to stay in Scotland to further her career in the sector, but did not know what the future helld because of the impending withdrawal of the UK from the European Union. She also said that she was aware of Polish people deciding not to come to Scotland to work in the health and social care sector for the very same reasons, namely that they do not know how long they will be permitted to stay.

The industry is aware of the impending problem and is taking steps to address the matter with recruitment campaigns specifically targeting young people. “Work in the sector can be highly rewarding and can provide a life-long career for those who opt take up the offer of employment” is the message and it is hoped that there will be a considerable response. Other initiatives will also have to be undertaken – particularly in the political field – in order to meet this challenge head-on.

The current trend is not irreversible but it will take a concerted effort by all who have an interest in the matter, and surely that means everybody, to ensure that our elderly and needy population are adequately cared for. I hope that this time next year I will once again be in the Highlands celebrating my mother’s birthday and, if I am lucky enough to be able to do so, I will raise a glass to the nursing home staff and thank them for their dedication and professionalism.