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27th September 2013

Planning responsibly for the Festive season

In my last couple of blogs I have discussed Winter Pressure Planning and recruitment. What interests me though is how Homecare Providers plan for the busy Christmas and New Year period.

A colleague from another Homecare provider told me they view Christmas as a normal day, the same as any other. Now, whilst I agree with the principal, it is just not practical.

With Christmas being a special time for lots of people, we see cancellations of service increase over the festive period.  It is an absolute certainty. Luckily (or unluckily depending on how you view your family!) people come to stay or the Service users go to visit relatives and friends.

By taking a proactive, but responsible, approach and asking service users about their plans, you can avoid having to deal with 20 different ‘No Access’ concerns on Christmas morning as the service user is not answering the door and has forgotten to say they are visiting their daughter down the road.

It also avoids wasting valuable staff resources that could be focussed better elsewhere. For example, those without any visitors at all could have that extra time that we would all want to give.  It’s in everyone’s interest to direct our Homecare resources to alleviate the growing problem of loneliness and isolation, particularly at this time of year.

So each year I have two plans of action for the Festive season, one for the Service users and the second for the Homecare staff.

With service users.....

I never know when is the right time to write out to all my service users about the festive period. Is November too early? December too late?  I usually decide to start the second week in November, and write out to everyone asking about their plans and if they are planning to attend a Day Centre.

A word of caution though - you need to pay close attention to the wording of your Christmas letters. You don’t want your Service users to feel guilty about continuing their service over Christmas and cancel unnecessarily.

I check that forms are only sent to those clients with the capacity to complete them. I check that all forms have the service user’s names on (I have been caught out in the past when quite a few returned without names! ) I send these letters out with a stamped addressed envelope included for ease of posting.

There are a number of Safeguarding implications for cancelling any service, even if it’s only a 15 minute call to remind the service user to take their medication.  So my priority when all the forms are returning back to the office is to make sure people are safe. I tick them off the list and contact the service user themselves to double check their plans. If appropriate, I also ensure the next of kin is contacted. If service users say they are going away for a couple of days to visit family, I ask them if I can double check this with their relative before I cancel. Best to be safe than sorry.

The key issue here is to ensure responses are recorded and evidenced. I would emphasise that you make sure you keep clear and accurate records of any cancellations.

Some of you will have your phone calls recorded (which is always an excellent investment for any Homecare agency) so make sure you keep a record of everyone you contacted and at what time and date and ensure this is recorded on your database and the client files.

Once all necessary checks are completed, the visits are cancelled on our IT system.

All cancellations are added to a spreadsheet and emailed across to the Local council for their information.

With Homecare staff...

I have a policy of not agreeing leave from mid December to the first week in January.  Now that may sound harsh but there’s a reason for this.

As it’s the Winter time there are lots of bugs going around and people will fall ill. We have a high level of absence during this time.  I need as many care staff around as possible to maintain the service level, hence the reason for taking an extremely cautious approach to granting annual leave.

What I try to do instead is engage with staff over when they would prefer to work. I dish out forms to all front line staff, usually around mid November asking when they would rather work, but advising that I am only looking for preferences and that I cannot guarantee anything. A small percentage of staff ask to work their rest days if it falls on the bank holidays, to ensure they bring some festive cheer to their regular clients. The majority of staff though will request either the Christmas or the New Year – whichever is their preference.

It is understandable that staff want to take leave over Christmas as many have family themselves. Those that have young children usually prefer Christmas and Boxing Day at home and have no qualms about working New Years Eve or Day. Some of the revellers in the workforce prefer the opposite.  So I ask that they note this and we will do our best to give them the time that they want.

We pay an enhanced rate to care staff for the bank holidays. What I consistently found was staff would be in work for those dates and then on 27th December the phone would ring and some would go off sick. And I don’t mean the genuinely sick, I mean the ones who overindulged in the Snowballs!

To discourage absence over the festive period, it states in our Written Statements of terms and conditions of Employment that staff are paid an enhanced rate for the bank holidays, but if they go off sick during a certain timeframe, then at management discretion, single pay may be paid instead, and the enhancements lost.

The following year after this was implemented, our sickness level reduced by almost 60%, with only genuine cases of absence being recorded (and being the sympathetic employers we are - all were paid the enhancements)

I do firmly believe that, if you negotiate with staff anyway over their leave preferences, then unplanned absences should be low. They will be less likely to let you down if they get to let their hair down and enjoy New Years Eve with the following day off.

Tying it all together ....

When all my service user letters are returned, I then have an indication of the level of service that is required over the festive period.  This information allows me to plan and prepare the workforce much better.

So what is your Company’s process for requesting and recording cancellations? I would love to hear your own processes and experiences of Christmas.

Keeping everyone happy at Christmas is a real miracle, one which I have never achieved. But if I can make the majority happy, then it helps make my own Christmas that little bit more special.

Rosie Robinson - QCS Expert Care Contributor

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