Local councils will be able to boost social care staffing levels through an extra £120 million of funding, the Government has announced.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said the new funds would help increase workforce capacity for care homes and domiciliary care providers hit by staff absences during the coronavirus pandemic.
It comes on top of the £149 million announced in December to support the roll out of rapid Covid-19 testing and family and friend visits where possible.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “This funding will bolster staffing numbers in a controlled and safe way, whilst ensuring people continue to receive the highest quality of care.
“Since the start of the pandemic, we have taken steps to protect care homes, including increasing the testing available for staff and residents, providing free PPE (personal protective equipment), and investing billions of pounds of additional funding for infection control.
“Help is on the way with the offer of a vaccine, with over 40% of elderly care home residents having already received their first dose.”
DHSC said the £120 million fund for local authorities could help plug worker shortages and allow additional staff to take on administrative tasks, freeing up skilled colleagues to focus on providing care.
It could also help existing staff work extra hours with overtime payments or by covering childcare costs.
The funding comes after a snapshot survey from the National Care Forum (NCF) earlier this month suggested some care services were reporting staff absences of over 50%.
The £149 million grant funding is ringfenced for the delivery of lateral flow testing in adult social care, and will help care home providers cover the costs of setting up safe testing areas and training staff.
Local authorities will be required to pass on 80% of the funding to care homes on a per beds basis, with 20% used at the local authorities discretion to support the care sector in delivering additional lateral flow device testing.
DHSC said all funding would be available “later this month”.
The department said the Government aimed to offer a jab to all care home residents and staff by the end of next week.
Minister for Care Helen Whately said: “This additional funding gives a boost to the social care workforce during some of the most difficult days of this pandemic so far.
“Care workers have been doing the most amazing job throughout the pandemic. In challenging circumstances, they have been caring for some of the people most at risk from this virus with compassion and skill.”
Updated guidance on care home staff movement is also due to be published “shortly”, DHSC said.
In November, the Government said it would introduce legislation requiring care home providers to restrict “all but essential” movement of staff between settings with the aim of reducing coronavirus transmission.
But DHSC said that responses to a consultation showed the care sector wanted “an increase in staffing capacity instead of regulation to achieve this goal”.
It said care homes will have additional Covid-19 tests for individuals working in more than one setting before the start of every shift.
Professor Martin Green, CEO of Care England, which represents independent adult social care providers, said it was “pleased the Government listened to the sector regarding their deep concerns about banning staff movement”.
He added: “We want to work with the department to ensure the staff capacity fund delivers to the front line and is suitably flexible to reflect the crisis whereby providers are struggling with staff illness and absenteeism in the same way as their colleagues in the NHS are.
“Staff are our most precious resource and we want to do all that we can to support them especially in these incredibly difficult times.”
Vic Rayner, chief executive of the NCF, which brings together more than 130 of the UK’s leading social care organisations, welcomed the new funding but said it must be subject to “continuous review”.
She added: “Communities across the country desperately need care organisations to be properly supported now and in the future so that they are ready and able to face every twist and turn of this pandemic.”
Ms Rayner said the policy proposal to prevent staff movement had been “ill-thought through”, targeted low paid care workers, and created a “high level of concerns”.
She added: “Care homes have been doing everything possible to reduce staff movement, and the prospect of enforcement was extremely unhelpful in a sector stretched to near breaking point.”