Care institutions including hospitals and nursing homes are desperately seeking temporary staff to fill the growing number of gaps in duty rosters as the Christmas and New Year holidays approach, the VRT reports.
Now that the fourth wave of the coronavirus pandemic is upon us, care institutions of every kind are suffering staff shortages, due to everything from new infections to staff burnout resulting from the previous three waves.
The need for staff, however, remains high, and now it is being combined by end-of-year holidays, which the staff of hospitals and nursing homes need now more than ever.
“We’re seeing staff shortages every day,” said Johan Demuynck, director of Zorgbedrijf Antwerpen. “We’re still getting everything done, but we’re only able to do that because we can appeal to people with a student contract, who already have their accreditation, but who are still studying. We also call in temporary employment offices and the self-employed to help.”
In Antwerp alone, there are some 1,700 full-time care workers employed. They are being supplemented by 20-30 temps and 80 or so people working under student contracts, which allow students of health-care related courses to gain credits for practical work.
“So we need a total of 110 extra people to be able to offer really high-quality care,” said Demuynck.
The problem of staff shortages – a chronic shortage of healthcare staff combined with the additional requirements imposed by Covid and the attrition caused by the illness on staff themselves – is not confined to Antwerp.
“Since the second wave of corona last year, there has been a remarkably high demand for healthcare professionals and nurses,” said Leen Verwimp of employment agency Express Medical, which specialises in medical personnel.
“At the moment, staff shortages are so great that some healthcare institutions are even finding it difficult to provide minimal care.”
Inevitably, and to no-one’s satisfaction, the business has never been healthier. The employment agency’s telephone rings off the hook every day, according to Verwimp.
“We are often asked to send a nurse or care worker on the same day. From hospitals, residential care centres, and all institutions where people are cared for or nursed. At the moment we can no longer meet the full demand.”
The situation is the same at Runtime Projects, another temp agency for medical personnel.
“Many healthcare employees are tired and drop out. Or they have to quarantine because a family member is infected. As a result, we receive hundreds of requests for nurses and healthcare professionals every day,” said the company’s Rinus Rommes.
“We work with about 200 freelancers, but with them alone we can absolutely not fill all shifts. On Friday there were still 350 shifts open.”
Two solutions – which appear so far to have escaped the notice of the political authorities – present themselves. One is to increase the pay of healthcare workers, including temps, to induce them back into the business. That has been proposed, so far to little or no response.
The other is to improve working conditions for healthcare workers, above all to reduce the stress brought about by the danger involved in working with highly-infectious patients.
But the one thing the Consultative Committee cannot legislate away is the virus itself.