“We need care workers to be added to the skills shortage list”

Camille Leavold

In an exclusive interview, Business Leader chatted with Camille Leavold, Managing Director of Abbots Care, to discuss the high turnover and ongoing skills shortage in the care sector.

What is your background and what inspired you to create Abbots Care?

Throughout my childhood, my mum, Stephanie (Co-Founder of Abbots Care), worked with people with disabilities at a local NHS hospital for people with learning disabilities. We would often visit the hospital as children and take part in fetes and Christmas parties, and learned from a very young age that caring for, supporting and helping people with disabilities was a normal part of our lives. As a child, I thought every family did this!

Mum was always exceptionally driven in supporting service users and their rights to lead normal lives, and when she couldn’t change the way people were treated in these institutions as a Nursing Assistant, she decided to train to be a registered LD Nurse and change things from the top. And she did.

Steph went on to qualify and become a Nurse Manager and developed innovative services, including her last job as a Nurse Manager for a children’s respite service in Watford.

During her time of managing the children’s respite service, mum often wished there were enough staff to offer an ‘at home’ service as an alternative, to give parents and siblings respite care without taking the child from their home. At the time, home care as we know it now wasn’t offered by councils or the NHS.

Steph left the NHS after having my younger brother and sister and worked part-time for care agencies. I was working for a national recruitment company as a Health and Social Care Consultant, and my sister Naomi as a Care Worker for another agency.

We were all a bit fed up with the way the agencies we worked for were run. No training was offered, and no one appeared to know who was experienced enough to do what and it was always a drive for money over quality.

Stephanie and Naomi approached Hertfordshire County Council to ask if they could provide domiciliary care work by booking them directly. They told them that they could, but that we would have to apply to become an approved agency and meet their compliance standards. They applied, were successful and I joined them within a few weeks.

So, with no funding, no planning and nothing but the love of the work, we started Abbots Care. From our very humble beginnings, I now find myself the Managing Director of Abbots Care and we now support almost 1000 customers and employ 500 care workers.

Why is turnover so high in the social care sector and what are the knock-on effects of this high turnover?

There are a number of factors that effect the turnover rate. One factor is pay, because of how home care is commissioned by the government: they don’t pay local authorities enough to fund all the care required, which has a knock-on effect on pay.

Another is lack of recognition. Home care is a very skilled and challenging role, but our society doesn’t seem to value the crucial work they do and is seen as a low-skilled job, which means that it isn’t seen as a good career choice for many.

Care workers leave to work in the NHS where terms and conditions are better, and also for career progression. The effects at the moment mean that we have 1000’s of people in the country waiting for care who have unmet care needs and providers don’t have enough staff to offer the support needed.

Has Brexit led to staff shortages in social care and if so, how short of staff is the sector currently?

Yes, we used to recruit around 30 staff per annum from Spain and Portugal and we are no longer able to do this. We need care workers to be added to the skills shortage list and the cost of working visas lowered so that we can recruit internationally.

Are there any major differences between private and public sector social care roles?

The job role is the same, but private providers are able to pay care workers sustainable rates, which is passed onto the care worker pay. However, the majority of home care is purchased by the government in the UK.

What needs to be done to increase staff numbers and improve staff retention in social care?

We need to professionalise care and have a regulator, like the Nursing and Midwifery Council, where care workers qualify and are properly recognised for their qualifications and skills. The government needs to act now to improve ongoing funding of the home care sector so that councils can pay the equivalent of an NHS Health Care Worker Band 3, which is a similar role in the NHS. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like the new white paper on health and social care will deliver this.

The pandemic has brought mental wellbeing more into the public eye. Has it done so for the social care sector too?

I think that social care has always been aware of mental health for both our customers and our care workers, and we can see how good support of people’s mental health can make a difference to people’s lives.

During COVID, we developed a well-being app so our care workers can communicate how they are feeling and we can respond quickly to support them.