Permanent roles not agency! says Unison Renfrewshire


SOCIAL WORK managers in Renfrewshire in Scotland have spent almost £4 million on agency care staff in just five years, figures reveal.

Renfrewshire Health and Social Care Partnership (HSCP) said it does not know how many agency workers have been used in children’s and adult support services. The money is enough to fund an average of 227 home care workers on permanent full-time contracts.

Mark Ferguson, trade union Unison’s branch secretary for Renfrewshire, says more roles must be created for those wanting to work in the care sector. He said: ‘This is a huge amount of money and we want to see permanent roles created instead. Service users often see several agency workers, they don’t want to keep dealing with different people — they need stability.

‘There is a staff shortage in the sector and this is caused by unattractive pay and shifts. Something must be done to attract more people into caring. Staff love their job, but they are under immense pressure because there is not enough cover. Too many people are being discharged into care from hospitals when there is no support. Terms and conditions must be improved as split shifts and the salary are putting too many people off.’

HSCP has spent over £3.6 million on agency staff between 2012 and 2017. Managers spent more than £3.2 million on temporary adult services staff and more than £404,000 on children’s services teams over that period. These amounts could have been used to provide work for 115 social workers, 227 home care workers, 150 social care workers or 150 social work assistants.

Agency workers are often on worse pay than permanent staff.

They are not allowed to claim for unfair dismissal if they are sacked without notice or good cause.

Staff cannot claim statutory redundancy payouts and maternity, paternity, adoption and parental leave. They are also not entitled to a written statement of the main terms and conditions of their employment.

Social work bosses say they have advertised 89 jobs since April 2015. They have filled 70 jobs, with 19 vacant for over six months. Renfrewshire Council joined forces with the health board to form HSCP. It administers community health services, including district nursing, health visiting, mental health and disability teams. It also manages contracted health services, including pharmacies, dentists and optometrists, as well as adult and child social care services.

HSCP insists temporary agency contracts are vital to keep the system running, but would not explain why the cash had not been spent on hiring permanent workers. A spokesman said: ‘We take our responsibilities to service users seriously and work to identify the most appropriate care, treatment and support package for each individual.

‘When a gap is created through a staff member leaving or taking sickness or maternity leave, the Health and Social Care Partnership must assess the most appropriate solution to ensure the minimum disruption to our service users. Home care workers and social workers can be employed using agencies to provide short-term cover, providing a consistent carer to patients and avoiding any distress which may be caused by a number of different staff dealing with one person.

‘Utilising agency workers provides a cost-effective solution which avoids placing unnecessary pressure on existing staff and allows the HSCP to continue to provide statutory services until the vacancy can be filled permanently. We work hard to offer the best quality service possible and we ensure that all staff employed by the HSCP provide the highest levels of care.’

• More than 20 planned operations were cancelled per day in Scotland’s hospitals in November for reasons including lack of beds, staff sickness and dirty equipment. A total of 664 operations were called off by hospital staff due to capacity or other non-clinical reasons that month, the latest official figures show. Causes for these cancellations included beds, staff or equipment being unavailable, workers being ill or unavailable due to an emergency operation taking priority and equipment being dirty.

Further reasons included operating theatre sessions over-running, leading to the patient cancelling. There were 30,820 planned operations across Scotland in November and 2,720 (8.8%) of these were cancelled, down from 9% the previous November but up from 8.5% on October 2017.

The rate of cancellation in November 2017 differed across health boards from 5.4% to 15.3%. The majority of cancelled planned operations that month were called off by the hospital for clinical reasons and numbered 995, followed by 977 cancelled by the patient. Scottish Health Secretary Shona Robison said: ‘It’s welcome that the overall cancellation rate for planned operations has improved compared to the same period last year.

‘In the last year, around 850 operations were carried out each day on average, with only a small fraction cancelled due to capacity reasons. Decisions to cancel planned operations are never taken lightly and we are working with health boards to make sure they manage capacity and planning in order to keep all cancellations to a minimum. We have made clear to boards that patients with the greatest clinical need, such as cancer patients, should not have their operations cancelled.’

• Meanwhile, pilots have welcomed reports that 2017 was the safest year in history for commercial airlines and say they will continue to do all they can to ensure flight safety. Two separate pieces of research by Dutch consultancy To70 and the Aviation Safety Network, found that there were no passenger jet crashes anywhere in the world in 2017.

The British Airline Pilots’ Association (BALPA) says this is good news, but urged the aviation industry to remain vigilant to the safety risks which these figures might mask. BALPA pointed out that by focusing on a lack of fatalities we may fail to note the serious incidents and possible trends that could have had devastating outcomes were it not for the training, dedication and professionalism of pilots.

In particular, pilots have highlighted fatigue as the biggest threat to flight safety. There is also concern about the threat posed by modern technology such as lithium batteries, drones and lasers.

Steve Landells, BALPA Flight Safety Specialist, said: ‘These early figures are great news and we hope these findings are an indication of what we can expect in the accidents statistics that will be released by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) later this year.

‘Pilots work day-in, day-out to ensure flight safety. But it’s important we don’t allow these good figures to breed complacency. Pilots have told BALPA that they are being pushed to their limits and have highlighted fatigue as a huge challenge for aviation.

‘No one wants tired pilots on the flight deck and BALPA is working with regulators and airlines to create an industry-wide culture that understands and prioritises fatigue. We are also seeing a rise in the use of modern technology such as lithium batteries, drones and lasers and it is important that we ensure their use does not have a negative impact on flight safety.

‘BALPA is working with the government to ensure it acts on its commitment to bring in regulations to tackle the rise in near misses with drones and the rise in attacks on aircraft by lasers swiftly in 2018.’

• Elsewhere, a woman and man who forced children trafficked from Vietnam to work in nail bars in the UK have been jailed under modern slavery legislation. Police say it is the first time a successful prosecution involving children has taken place since the laws were brought in two years ago.

The case centres on girls aged under 18 who were smuggled into the UK and compelled to work for little or no money. Thu Huong Nguyen, known as Jenny, and Viet Hoang Nguyen, known as Ken, were both found guilty of conspiring to arrange or facilitate the movement of people for labour exploitation and conspiring to require others to perform forced or compulsory labour at Stafford crown court.

Forty-eight-year-old Jenny, from Bath, was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment, while Twenty-nine-year-old Ken from Burton-upon-Trent, was jailed for four years. A third defendant, Giang Huong Tran, known as Susan, was found guilty of conspiracy to require others to perform forced or compulsory labour. The 23-year-old from Burton-upon-Trent, was given a two-year suspended sentence.