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28th October 2013

“Where do I hang my coat?”

Anyone who has responsibility for a 24 hour care provision will have come across the challenges of using temporary staff. Although best practice is to recruit and retain a crack squad of willing and loyal carers, it is unfortunately necessary for them to have holidays, babies and unexpected ailments, leaving you with little alternative than to make other arrangements.

Some organisations will have a ‘bank’ of sessional staff that can be called up at short notice to fill gaps in shift cover. The beauty of this is that they are known to you and probably your residents too; they have presumably been subject to your style of scrutiny and will in most cases have had induction training into your way of doing things. The reason that many providers don’t have an in-house ‘bank’ is that it can be costly to maintain skills in this group, or that they are averse to the notion of the much-maligned zero hours contract and so pay a retainer. Ouch.

More often than not, however, we find ourselves reaching for the phone book and making a plaintive appeal to ‘WonderCare Ltd’ or a similarly-named outfit and asking them to send you some help. And then usually, around ten minutes after you had hoped they would arrive, the agency person turns up. Now you have the dilemma – how to provide them with enough knowledge to allow you a relaxing evening in the time it takes for your dinner to go cold. Of course, we are all providers of quality services and so we make sure our temporary staff know who and where the residents are, where the care plans can be found, how to raise the alarm and evacuate, where the drugs cupboard is and how to work the heating. And so forth.

But how do we ever REALLY make sure our agency staff are safe hands to leave our care home in?

Of course, we make sure they are supported by a team of our own experienced people and are not left in sole charge, but we need to be sure of a few other matters too……

We don’t use agencies unless we are confident of their recruitment processes and vetting and barring practice; we make sure we get all of the information on who is coming prior to the start of the shift, including a photograph and details of NMC PIN where relevant and their eligibility to work in the UK. We also ask for a full break down of their training history with the dates of most recent first aid, moving and handling, safeguarding and health and safety training.  If we are not confident we have all of this information or we are in any way unhappy with it, we don’t use them.

Now I am not so naïve as to think managers have the luxury of doing all of this when Mavis Davis phones in sick an hour before her shift. But if you think you are going to need agency staff someday, then the smart thing is to do all of this in advance, by entering into agreements with agencies to send you staff info, and by satisfying yourself of the quality of their business. They want your business – spend wisely.

*All information is correct at the time of publishing

Ginny Tyler

Learning Disabilities Specialist

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