2020: The Year Carers Were Recognised as Frontline Workers

When the pandemic plunged the entire global population into lockdown, those within healthcare marched up to the front line to be part of the movement to see the world through the other side. Now, as a new year is underway, the industry is poised and ready to face the next phase of the pandemic. Dan Archer, managing director of in-home care provider Visiting Angels, is more than ready – welcoming 2021 with an eager class of franchisees preparing to launch and offer much-needed support in their communities.

It’s safe to say that the care industry has been placed under the microscope, facing intense strain for the whole of 2020. Ever since the word ‘pandemic’ was muttered almost a year ago, it sent shockwaves through the entire workforce, urging organisations across the world to prepare for an intense period of extended service delivery. In fact, we had no option but to step up to the plate and what makes me most proud is how determined our carers were to be the names and faces associated with the new wave of frontline staff.

In May, the first franchisee training class of the year took place, with four franchisees ready to start their dream business. The addition of these immediately doubled the Visiting Angels network in the UK and demonstrated how the rest of the year was going to unfold – it was clear that our franchisees and their teams wanted to take action, offering a solution to many isolated people needing support in their communities. Ranging from Yorkshire to Surrey and Cambridgeshire to Staffordshire, we have personally experienced the incredible demand for quality care services since then, supporting loved ones in the comfort of their own homes after being forced to shield from family and friends. In just over six months, our success is evident, not only in the growth of every Visiting Angels’ business but in the fantastic responses we get from our clients and their families.

As 2020 rolled by, we continued to receive expressions of interest for the Visiting Angels franchise from people who recognised the need for quality care provision in their areas. In November, we trained two more franchisees and, fairly soon after that, awarded franchise territories to several more. This cohort will be completing their initial franchisee training this month. Maybe it’s the ‘new year, new me’ mentality, or simply spotting the opportunity within a lucrative industry? Whatever their reasons, I’d say, although I fear I’m biased, it’s one of the best decisions they’ll ever make.

With the increase of attention on care professionals, we were presented several opportunities to join a far bigger discussion on issues and challenges that the entire industry was facing. In December, a report on the government’s acquisition of PPE for the health and social care sector highlighted an overspend of more than £10bn due in part to the slow reaction to source adequate equipment at a reasonable rate. I picked up the phone to the BBC reporter and proceeded to tell her my side of the story, how I sourced PPE myself for the benefit of the entire UK Visiting Angels network. This resulted in an interview with the BBC, which featured on both BBC Breakfast and the BBC Evening News programmes, alongside broadcasting to 15m people on BBC Radio 2. Getting our voice heard is important to not just me and my network but for the industry as a whole, as we all charge towards the common goal of better-quality care.

What 2021 has in store for care franchises

Now on to the real concern as we near a solution to the pandemic which has gripped us for so long. As the clock struck midnight on December 31st, it brought with it the moment we’ve been waiting on for over four years – an exit from the EU. In particular, many other care providers will face staffing issues caused by their dependence on workers from the EU. The shortage of care staff worsened after 2016’s Brexit vote and has continued to do so as European care workers stopped coming to the UK. They were left feeling both unwelcome due to public rhetoric and uncertain about the right to work and remain in the UK with no solid guidance from the government.

At Visiting Angels, it’s business as usual. We don’t source our care workers from outside the UK and, in fact, many of our carers support clients within the communities they have lived in themselves for years. Visiting Angels launched in the UK after the Brexit vote and thanks to our carer-centric approach, I knew this was one hurdle we wouldn’t need to be jumping. Our franchisees know that the way we employ, support and care for our staff make them the employer of choice.

So, what will 2021 hold for us in the care industry and Visiting Angels specifically? We have a chance to reflect on the challenges of managing an unprecedented rise in market need and learn how this can be harnessed for growth in less stressed markets. I, for one, have been reminded that our care provision is so much more than a service – it’s a lifeline and our carers should continue to be applauded.

Dan Archer is the UK Managing Director of Visiting Angels. Established in 1998 in the US, the brand has over 600 franchisees operating in five countries. Visiting Angels’ mission is to become the UK care sector’s employer of choice by 2022 and, to achieve this, the brand has positioned itself in the UK as being ‘carer-centric’. Launched in Sheffield in 2017, the first UK franchise was recognised as Best International Franchise at the brand’s annual conference in recognition for both its exceptional approach to its care workers and its management team, reaching a million-pound turnover in year two.