Single-handed care: the solution to pull us back from the brink?
Cast your mind back to the summer of 2016, and the run-up to the EU referendum. Most of us will remember Boris’ big red Brexit bus, and its improbable promise of an extra £350 million for the NHS. But in the face of a deepening crisis in social care, will Brexit ultimately prove to be friend or foe?
Although it’s impossible to determine what the exact impact of Brexit will be, many are predicting significant losses to the UK’s social care workforce, of which EU nationals currently comprise 7% (around 95,000 carers).
For many local authorities, this could prove to be one additional pressure too many. Staff retention is already a serious issue, with the National Audit Office reporting that more than 350,000 social care workers left the profession in 2017 1. Team that with an expected 60% rise in the number of older people predicted to have care needs within the next 20 years2, and you get a gloomy outlook.
So what’s the answer?
Somerset County Council: a case study
In 2011, Somerset County Council made a start by reviewing its double handed care packages, with the intention of implementing single handed care. Between September 2011 and February 2012, of the clients assessed, 25% were transitioned to single-handed care, with another 31% being identified as potentially suitable.
Their forecasted savings for the next financial year were £270,0003.
The project also successfully took the Council a step closer to compliance with the EU Council Directive on employer obligations:
“The employer shall take appropriate organizational measures, or shall use the appropriate means, in particular mechanical equipment, in order to avoid the need for the manual handling of loads by workers”
But is it that simple to implement single-handed care packages?
Research by the University of Salford has revealed that “misconceptions regarding moving and handling, insufficient knowledge of specialist equipment and an often outdated and inflexible approach has led to too much generalisation regarding the perceived need for two carers as opposed to one4”.
The common UK model is a blanket approach, typically prescribing double-handed care as the default. However, this is often an over-prescription, and can result in unnecessary extra expenditure.
Specialist equipment can be a cost-effective alternative, as it empowers single-handed care. In 2011, Sturman-Floyd commented that appropriate equipment solutions “can improve productivity, enhance comfort, reduce costs and increase client independence”.
In the case of bedridden patients who need to be turned and repositioned in-situ, the most efficient solution on the UK market is the VENDLET Patient Turning System.
The VENDLET is a mechanised system that gently repositions clients, with no need for manual handling. As such, it only requires one carer to operate.
This mechanisation also significantly reduces the risk of carers developing musculoskeletal disorders. Back pain and other MSDs account for approximately 40 per cent of all sickness absence in the NHS5. Avoiding work-related sickness absence among carers could be a critical strategy when working with such a heavily diminished workforce.
However, it should be noted that single-handed care is not always possible. Ideally, patient-centred assessments should be undertaken on a case-by-case basis.
“the assessment must be focussed on the particular circumstances of the individual case. Just as context is everything so the individual assessment is all”
– Lord Chief Mumby
“Better Outcomes, Lower Costs”
Empowering care agencies to distribute their human resource more efficiently also brings benefits beyond budgetary concerns. A 2018 broadcast by ITV News highlighted the plight of 87-year old Jane Gough, who had been left feeling ‘degraded, upset and unsettled’ after enduring personal care visits from 36 different carers in just a few weeks6.
Reducing the number of necessary carers to just one makes it easier for care agencies to improve consistency in care. Single-handed care also allows for the development of more personal one-to-one relationships between clients and their carers, and improves levels of privacy and dignity, which have been proven to positively affect well-being.
Single-handed care also affords greater flexibility for care agencies and clients, as they are no longer restricted by the burden of co-ordinating two carers’ diaries. A good example of the impact of this increased flexibility is that clients may have more control over when they are put ‘back to bed’, as only one carer needs to be present, thereby reducing logistical restrictions.
Overcoming the obstacles
So, in conclusion, even in the face of mounting obstacles, single-handed care via specialist, mechanised equipment can:
- help meet the growing demand for care by distributing our remaining human workforce more efficiently
- provide long-term cost-saving solutions
- reduce work-related sickness absence
- boost client well-being by boosting privacy and dignity, and fostering more personal one-to-one relationships with fewer carers
3 and 4 https://usir.salford.ac.uk/43619/1/Does-it-Take-Two.pdf
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