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Health and social care workers provide vital support and services to 1.6 million vulnerable people in England alone. So what happens when employees want to take some well-earned respite themselves?

An insightful survey of 2,000 British health and social care employees carried out in 2012 by the Association of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCo) shows an unsurprising, but concerning trend. 61% of health and social care workers reported that they were already doing the job of 1.5 to two full-time people, in contrast to a survey carried out across all UK sectors, where employees reported they felt responsible for the work of 1.3 people.

The pattern deteriorated further during holiday periods, when a quarter of health and social care staff said their colleagues were expected to manage their workload while they were away; 36% saying that they were expected to ‘keep things going’, and only a fractional 10% saying that their work is covered by a temporary member of staff.

It seems that much-needed holidays don’t bring much respite from stress and work worries either, with 11% of respondents checking their emails and calls, one-third unable to take two or more weeks off and one in ten health and social care professionals reporting that they felt unable to take a holiday during the summer at all.

So, if holidays are stressful events in themselves, what can the sector do to ease the pressure and give hard-working professionals the time they are entitled to for relaxation and essential family time?

Craig Davis, Head of Social Work for Sanctuary Social Care, said: “The summer holiday period is essentially six weeks long. We rarely get a position for such a short period. However, if local authorities were to plan ahead, taking people on in early July through to September / October, and also making sure the replacement workers don’t have holidays planned during this period, could make a real difference.

Craig suggested having a lead-in time of July as this would give cover workers an opportunity for a proper handover period of cases and files, time to get to know the families and colleagues they will be dealing with, and a chance to understand the systems and procedures they would have to use. This essentially would make their position even more valuable to those they are covering.

Craig continued: “September is a really busy month, plus there is always a backlog of work that builds up over the holiday period. If temporary staff can take the pressure off during the holiday period; they could also be used to ease the September influx of new cases as well.”

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