In 2022, Markel UK commissioned a report on the multifaceted challenges and transformative shifts faced by the care sector in recent years. Based on a two-part study involving high-level executives and decision-makers in small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) care businesses, the report revealed that 51% of respondents found Covid-19 and its after-effects to be the most significant challenge impacting the care sector.
Whilst the challenges facing the care sector have evolved over the last two years, the impact of Covid is still present, with its impression being felt through the impact it has had on the care workforce and its contribution to the cost-of-living crisis, which in turn impacts the care sector.
Covid’s lasting impact
For care professionals, the pandemic was a traumatic experience. Anita Astle, Managing Director at Wren Hall Nursing Home, explains, “There was guidance that didn’t make sense… Our inspectorate wasn’t there, and our healthcare services weren’t around.”
In short, social care professionals were on their own, battling a previously unknown disease with inadequate resources and guidance, pushing their own fears aside to keep others safe. Some even moved into their care environments, sacrificing their personal time and space to ensure they didn’t bring Covid in or out, and ultimately, watched many of the people they cared for (and for some, lived with) lose their lives to this new disease.
The ensuing burnout and mental distress, paired with other factors like the negative media stereotyping and societal attitudes towards the role of care and care homes during the pandemic, caused many to leave the sector – resulting in increased vacancies and a serious backlog of care across the UK. The Scottish care sector, for example, has lost one third of its staff since the start of the pandemic. This loss of core skills, experience and knowledge will be Covid’s legacy within the sector, says Donald Macaskill, Chief Executive of Scottish Care.
"Everyone is acting like Covid is over, but for the care home, it isn’t"
Covid continues on
Macaskill explains that with Covid comes additional workload, restriction and demand upon staff. “It’s like having to worry about the flu not just in flu season, but year-round,” he says. There is also Long Covid to consider, which we now know to be not just respiratory, but significantly neurological in nature.
The result is an exhausted, overworked industry. Palvi Dohdia, Director of Serene Care Ltd, explains, “Everyone is acting like Covid is over, but for the care home, it isn’t. I’ve not had a break in three years. I’m just tired and burnt out, as are most people in the industry jumping between one crisis to another. Because when does social care stop? It doesn’t.”
This misconception has also caused the UK government to roll back its provision of free personal protective equipment (PPE) and Covid tests. This means the already underfunded care sector will be managing these additional measures, without the national infrastructure support that was put in place specifically for Covid-19, come March 2024.
Underfunded and underinsured
Underfunding has always been an issue within the care sector. Recently, however, it has been felt even more deeply as the cost-of-living crisis – which is partly a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic and associated lockdowns – rages on.
The crisis has become a significant challenge for both those working in and receiving care – as providers face massive increases in the costs of commodities such as energy and foodstuffs, with many struggling to pay their staff a wage in line with inflation, while those who need care experience longer waits, reduced access and poorer outcomes.
Insurance has also had a significant impact on the sector’s ability to provide care, especially in the wake of first and second waves of the pandemic. While Covid prompted many insurance providers to withdraw from the market, those that stayed hiked up the price of their products to mitigate their risk. Premiums reached an all-time high, with some increasing up to 200-300%, leaving social care providers with two options: pay up or go out of business.
As discussed in Markel UK’s podcast, The Care Sector: Navigating Turbulent Times, the pandemic revealed that the care sector and its insurance partners hadn’t properly understood what it was trying to insure against pre-Covid. This meant care was often hidden within a ‘commercial combine’, a general insurance package that didn’t provide sufficient coverage
Many insurers overlooked how broad the care sector is – characterised by a wide range of agencies and individuals providing various kinds of care and support. However, as an insurer specialising in care, Markel Care Practitioners understood the sector and the regulatory landscape, and helped care providers manage and reduce their exposures.
Moving forward, workforce pressures, the cost-of-living crisis and the increased cost of insurance are likely to continue to impact the care sector. The care sector’s hope, however, is that lessons will be learnt from the pandemic and upcoming Covid Inquiry. Lessons that insurance providers, policy makers, commissioners, health and care professionals, providers and society at large can take with us, to ensure that policy decisions are improved and struggles are reduced in the event of a future pandemic.
Read Markel’s deep dive into the pain points of the care sectorThe Care Sector: navigating turbulent times