Agency workers are vital to social care, and are in need of adequate PPE and testing: our response to reports of temporary workers ‘spreading COVID-19’ between care homes.

This morning saw the publication of an exclusive in the Guardian newspaper, where a study cited agency staff as a reason for the spread of COVID-19 between care homes

The study

The study from Public Health England stated: “Infection is spreading from care home to care home, linked to changed patterns of staffing, working across and moving between homes.” 

While the study was conducted over Easter weekend (11-13th April), and has been known about in government since at least the end of April, actions based on its findings hadn’t been provided to care operators and local authorities until last week

The study’s findings were flagged in the announcement of a £600m “infection control fund”, launched to help care providers pay agency staff extra to work at single facilities.

The real issue

We see this move as another sign of a too-late and inadequate response from the government during the coronavirus crisis. This delay and disorganisation has affected all health and social care services, but care homes have suffered particularly badly

To be clear: there are several answers to the question of why COVID-19 has spread so devastatingly in care homes - but agency staff providing vital care in a struggling system is not one of them. 

Temp staff support care

Social care has been supported by dedicated temporary staff through years of cuts - because staffing gaps were already a huge issue before the pandemic.

Temporary workers have provided care throughout the last decade's staffing crisis, often without the support they need. With many organisations seeing increased employee sickness alongside high vacancies, no wonder it’s been necessary to go to agencies and banks to fill rotas. 

Care providers and temporary workers cannot (and should not) be blamed for fulfilling their roles and giving care to our loved ones in any way possible at this time.

PPE and testing needed

Portioning blame to agency work hides the real reason for the spread of coronavirus in care homes, which is centred around a lack of adequate PPE, and delayed access to testing for staff and residents. Both are a direct result of the government’s poor planning and slow reaction to the crisis.  

Healthcare workers have a professional responsibility and duty to practice in the best interests of those in their care.

We must urgently support nurses and carers in performing their roles safely during this pandemic - no matter if they are temporary or permanent staff. The delay in doing this has been unjustified, and continues to cost healthcare workers' lives every day. 

It’s time to recognise the essential service of all care staff, and provide adequate PPE and testing as first priority. It’s the very least we can do.