Agency workers in the care sector will be banned from moving between care homes under new government proposals to reduce the spread of Covid-19.
One of the common factors in care homes with a higher Covid-19 infection rate among staff was the use of staff who worked across multiple sites, according to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).
Under the proposals being consulted on, the government would implement new regulations that will require Care Quality Commission-registered residential and nursing care home providers in England to restrict the movement of staff providing nursing or personal care.
They would be unable to use staff who provide, or have carried out within the previous 14 days, care work in another setting or for another health or social care provider.
It would apply to care homes using bank or agency staff, excluding registered managers, or workers carrying out tasks other than the delivery of care, such as cleaning.
Primary or community healthcare staff who are not employees of the care home – for example district and community nurses, GPs or other visiting healthcare professionals – would not be included in the requirement.
The proposals were criticised by the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC), which said the government had not acknowledged the progress that care homes had made in ensuring staff could change locations in a Covid-secure way.
It was also disappointed that the government had only allowed one week for responses to the consultation, which closes this Friday (20 November).
“A ban on agency workers moving between care homes would severely damage the care system, would be catastrophic for patient safety, and likely lead to more hospital admissions. With around 112,000 care sector job vacancies in England on any given day there aren’t enough staff to deliver the care that’s needed and agency workers are absolutely essential,” said Kate Shoesmith, deputy CEO of the REC.
“Temporary staff adhere to the same rigorous infection control guidelines as permanent colleagues and have an equal right to PPE. Like everyone else, they are also reliant on a highly effective track and trace system to stop the spread of infection. This should be the government’s priority if they want to protect both those being cared for and the staff in social care and the NHS.”
The DHSC suggested that care providers “consider the use of exclusivity contracts with agencies or block-book agency workers on a temporary or minimum hours contract”.
They would also need to take reasonable steps to identify workers who hold additional jobs and discuss with them which role the worker wanted to continue.
The only exception to the requirements would be where a care provider was unable to engage enough staff to cover some shifts or duties, or there have been unplanned absences due to Covid-19 self-isolation requirements or school closures.
For the exception to apply, the provider would need to be able to demonstrate that it had adequately planned its staffing requirements and was actively taking steps to address resourcing gaps. Providers would also need to prove that all staff have tested negative for Covid-19 in the previous seven days, workers have had training in infection prevention and control and have a risk assessment in place.
The requirement will not apply staff who have worked in another health or social care setting in the 14 days prior to the proposed regulations coming into force.