Every day 6,000 people become carers, and an estimated 3.7 million people are working carers in England and Wales.
A growing number of people are having to play a dual role in balancing their jobs with their caring responsibilities. There are an estimated 250,000 carers working in the NHS, many of whom are aged between 45-64 and so are likely to be among our most experienced and skilled staff.
In addition, around 75 per cent of NHS staff are women and more likely to have caring responsibilities, figures taken from Carers UK.
At the height of the COVID-19 crisis, over two million people were required to shield across the UK. However official guidelines stated that carers could still go to work, as long as they distanced within the household. For many staff working in the NHS, meeting the care needs of their loved ones carrying out duties such as dressing, bathing and feeding, meant constantly putting their loved ones at risk.
During the pandemic we had to adapt quickly to changing circumstances, in order to support staff with caring responsibilities. We have pulled together some tips, good practice examples and links to resources below:
- Manager support and communication – the importance of timely, compassionate conversations around support needs to maintain good staff wellbeing is essential, take time to understand the individual’s circumstances.
- Respite breaks - holding regular wellbeing conversations provides an opportunity to offer some time out to the individual, allowing them to unwind and take carer respite breaks.
- No size fits all – having wellbeing conversations that considers age, disability, religion or belief and other protected characteristics can play a key part in improving the lived experience of staff with caring responsibilities.
- Flexible working – establishing new hours of work and hybrid working doesn’t mean that service will be compromised, protecting flexible working patterns and providing more agile working can boost staff wellbeing both physically and mentally.
- Clear policies – having an established policy helps managers provide better support and be able to meet the needs of staff and improve their experience.
- Staff networks - in many cases these have been rejuvenated because of the pandemic. They have become a trusted space for discussing issues of concern that may be hard to raise elsewhere.
- Chaplaincy support - giving emotional and spiritual care, and support which offers solace and spiritual guidance to people of all faiths, as well as those with no faith, can be of great benefit.
Good practice examples
- University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay Trust supported staff during the pandemic who had a family member that was shielding. They offered alternative accommodation so the individual could continue working, this was organised through local providers. Staff were also offered a care package which included food, pyjamas, towels, blankets, toiletries and other home comforts. Through this scheme the trust supported 72 members of staff.
- Oxleas NHS Foundation Trust share insights on Supporting staff who are shielding in this case study. Actions included regular briefings for HR advisers and business partners, ensuring reasonable adjustments were made, improved communication, providing clear guidance for managers and engagement with staff networks.
- NHS England and NHS Improvement has developed a working carers passport to support NHS trusts and line managers.
- Carers UK have recently developed a guide Let’s talk about flexible working which has practical information to help staff with caring responsibilities and start the conversation with their line managers.
- The CIPD report Supporting working carers (2020) examines how working carers combine their caring responsibilities with paid employment, and the difference employers can make by supporting them.
- A report from Carers UK highlights the importance of having established policies in place to support staff with caring responsibilities.
- Business in the community has developed a Supporting carers in the workplace toolkit which provides the knowledge and practical advice organisations need to support informal carers.
- NHS Employers has developed guidance around supporting staff with underlying health conditions and those who are in higher-risk groups.
- A Shielding Experts webinar was hosted by the West Yorkshire Health and Care Partnership along with the Local Resilience Forum, West Yorkshire Prepared on 3 February 2021, providing a valuable opportunity to listen to people about their experiences of shielding.