Council considers £3.4 million cash injection to stem care worker exodus in Northumberland

Up to 200 of the most vulnerable people in Northumberland are being forced to wait for vital home care services because of an “unprecedented workforce crisis” in the sector.

County Hall, Morpeth.
County Hall, Morpeth.

The easing of Covid restrictions last year saw large numbers of staff quit to take up or return to roles in the revived leisure and hospitality industry.

And now county bosses are facing the prospect of authorising a £3.4m injection to boost wages in a bid to encourage them to return – or at least keep hold of the workers which remain.

“This is a national problem, it’s a regional problem and it’s a problem for Northumberland, ” said Neil Bradley, service director for strategic commissioning and finance at Northumberland County Council (NCC).

“For Northumberland, this started to really become an acute issue around about August-September, shortly after ‘Freedom Day’, when the country stepped out of the most severe elements of Covid restrictions.

“We did see quite quickly a large migration of stuff away from the care sector and we quite quickly started to see that manifest itself as pressure on [adult social care] services.

“Since then, in home care, at any point in time about 160 – 200 packages of care that we can’t deliver straight away when people need it – there’s simply not enough staff.”

Mr Bradley was speaking to the council’s health and wellbeing overview and scrutiny committee, where he outlined options due to be put to the local authority’s leadership later this month.

One of the proposals is to offer care providers extra cash through increased care fees, leaving managers to determine the best “combination of pay increases and other initiatives” to ease staffing pressures.

However, evidence has suggested higher payouts by other North East councils have made “little difference to staff pay”, thought to be one of key factors in recruiting and retaining care workers.

The preferred option is to mandate cash boosts for care providers be used to increase pay in line with the “Real Living Wage” of £9.90 per hour, as set by the Living Wage Foundation.

A third option of doing nothing “in the hope that immediate workforce issues will turn out to be a short-term consequence” is discouraged and it is feared failure to act will see more and longer unnecessary stays in hospitals in care homes.