Founded in 1988, Community Integrated Care is one of Britain’s largest health and social care charities, delivering support to people with a diverse range of needs, including learning disabilities, mental health concerns, autism and dementia. It delivers services throughout Scotland and England, and employs approximately 6,000 workers across a variety of roles.
Community Integrated Care started preparing for how lockdown restrictions would affect services from the middle of February. Chief people officer Teresa Exelby says the organisation wanted to ensure it didn’t find itself in the same situation as many social care providers in Spain, where elderly people were left in care homes without support because staff were unable to come in to work.
So the charity formed a response team to look at how a lockdown in England would affect its workers’ ability to provide care. “We paused activity that was otherwise planned to happen within the organisation during that time, and we refocused all of our resources into scenario planning and risk identification,” Exelby says.
The team explored how the organisation would support frontline workers, and decided office-based staff should work remotely. All of this happened in the weeks before the lockdown began in the UK on 16 March.
Furlough and shielding
When lockdown came into force, all the charity’s office-based workers were asked to work from home, but the majority needed to continue to provide care and support on the front line. There was a “very difficult period” when it was unclear around the scale of shielding, how many colleagues would need to self-isolate and what that would mean for the organisation, says Exelby.
“There was a two or three week period where we knew colleagues were going to be shielding, but we didn’t know what they were going to live off because furlough hadn’t been invented at that point,” Exelby explains.
HR tried to find creative ways to help people through this period, including taking holiday and considering if work could be restructured to be done remotely. When furlough was introduced, the charity placed 244 colleagues on the scheme, many of whom were shielding.
“Now, only 40 or so colleagues are still furloughed,” Exelby says. “And we’re using the flexible furlough scheme to enable high-risk colleagues to, in essence, shield again in the event of a local lockdown.”
In response to a number of local lockdowns in locations including Bolton, Aberdeen and Leicester, Community Integrated Care’s response team now monitors infection rates for the areas where workers are based.
The idea is we should be able to “predict where the local lockdowns are likely to come,” Exelby says, adding: “We’ve created a tiered effect depending on the scale of the lockdown as to what that will mean for our services.”
As such a local lockdown could mean a range of actions, including stopping face-to-face training, restricting visitors to sites or even encouraging colleagues to not go to the pub. “The set of measures is there so we can tell our services when it’s likely there might be a lockdown and so we can tell them how to continue working,” says Exelby.
Recruitment and flexible working
Community Integrated Care has significantly ramped up its recruitment process, both in terms of the volume of people being taken on and the speed of the process. “Before Covid, it could take up to 11 weeks to get people into work, and we got down to five days at its fastest,” says Exelby.
Since 16 March, 1,296 new colleagues have joined the organisation. The charity moved all its training online, and created a 3D virtual training programme that people could do from home before they started.
“We wanted people that landed in the services to feel competent and able to help instead of just overwhelmed when they started,” Exelby says. “And we are looking at technology and how we can use it to provide support and independence to people.”
The organisation has also reduced the number of agency staff used and given people greater flexibility in how they work. “Somebody might be contracted to work for 22 hours a week, but if the kids can’t go to school and their grandparents can’t look after them – that’s fine,” Exelby explains.
“We will work together as a group to figure out what people can do, and we have the size and scale that we can work around those needs.”