May 20

Lockdown throws up big challenges for individual employers

Posted: 5 May 2020

The team at Richard’s House won the 2020 Skills for Care Accolade for Best individual who employs their own care and support staff. Here Tess Reddington who employs a team of PAs to support her son reflects on the challenges the COVID-19 lockdown has presented for them.

It seems like many of the 70,000 individual employers, we are always looking forward to some fantasy time when we are no longer fire-fighting and everything will be up to date and organised. In the almost 12 years I’ve been employing PAs we have rarely achieved that state of luxury - it’s always been just out of reach. 

So for us the impact of the lockdown was severe and despite the fact we are problem solvers, was challenging. Richard had just come through a serious mental health problem; inductions were planned for two new recruits, and once they were trained we would have had time to step back, to review what we do and make it better.

In the first days before the lockdown, one part-time support worker came down with suspected COVID-19. He had been in contact with other members of staff, and briefly with Richard, but with no testing available we had no option but to send all the staff home. That meant my husband and I looked after Richard until we were confident we were all clear.  

We got on with the practical stuff. I looked to put in place an emergency plan: who could work through any outbreak, and how will everyone ensure that they do not bring infection into work. One member of staff was prepared to live in if necessary, and one would consider extended shifts.

Sadly one staff member felt unable to continue working as she has a vulnerable person at home.  She has self-isolated for 12 weeks leaving the team seriously understaffed. 

We tried to source PPE.  We generally carry good stocks, buying when we see it at good value, but not having a regular supplier.  There were no gloves to be had.  We called the various agencies that are there to support us and nothing was in place.  I found the right department with the help of a contact and managed to get some FFP2 masks, but gloves/gowns and higher grade masks if needed were still an issue. Suddenly three weeks in, plans now seem to be coming together. 

We’ve picked up our package of gloves, aprons and masks and bought some locally made cotton washable masks.  We shall also buy a small number of visors made by our local school so the emergency kits are coming together.  We carry on with our enhanced infection control regime. The testing services are getting organised too, and we are reasonably confident that in a few days facilities will be there for us.  

At the start we were all very frightened that we were on our own, and no one was planning for us. Steadily things are slotting into place, and I feel much more confident that we have solutions if the worst happens.         

The isolation is hard on Richard.  He thrives on company/group activities and the staff thrive on that too. So at the moment there’s no shopping, big days out, carboot fairs or visits to friends and family which he loves doing. No bowling, pub nights, cinema, botcha, Wii switch nights or cheesy discos that are so important for Richard’s wellbeing and staff morale.  

Richard’s team have been incredibly resourceful thinking of things to do to keep the Richard occupied, but it’s difficult. There are signs of a return of his severe unhappiness, and unmanageable behaviours, but we don’t know what he is thinking.  We can only try to jolly him along. 

His physical health too is at risk.  A lot of effort normally goes into exercise such as going to the gym, and daily stretching routines, and keeping him busy meant lots of walking.  There are signs already that his balance is not so good, and his energy levels are poorer.

But I have confidence in our team: they are calm, well qualified and professional. Most importantly they care deeply for Richard and he loves them too.  I hope I have done enough that they have confidence in me as an employer, to keep them as safe as possible, and to treat them fairly when things get tough.  

One of the heart-warming wins through this terrible event is seeing how our team pulled together, putting trust in each other to keep each other safe. There is a quiet, disciplined professionalism that gives me confidence Richard is in the safest place.