Health leaders have called for an urgent plan to tackle the social services workforce crisis, warning Rishi Sunak that there are “clear concerns” that staffing shortages remain unmanageable.
The warning from Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents hospitals and community services, comes after the release of the long-awaited £2.4billion NHS workforce plan, which will see 300,000 extra nurses and doctors over the coming years.
Mr Taylor said any benefits to improving NHS staffing would be “limited” without a corresponding strategy for the social care sector, which currently has 165,000 vacancies.
Health bosses, represented by the NHS Confederation, have now written to the Prime Minister asking for “urgent action” and a clear plan to improve wages and conditions to attract staff.
Martin Green, chief executive of Care England, which represents care homes, warned that the sector is “in the midst of a workforce crisis that is going to get worse, not better”.
Welcoming the letter from the NHS Confederation, he said that unless similar improvements were made to social care there will be “more surgeries cancelled, more people languishing in hospital when they don’t need it and the whole collapse of the system”. .
The letter from the leader of the NHS Confederation, Sir Victor Adebowale, said: “We are urging you, on behalf of NHS leaders across the country, to step in to ensure that a similar measure is now mandated for this vital workforce .”
“Our motivation for enlisting your urgent intervention is because our members know that providing social care is essential to the communities we serve, and because we also know that the risks facing our colleagues are exposed to in relation to their workforce are profound.”
The NHS’s flagship plan, announced on Friday, says its ambitions are “conditional on access to social care services remaining at current levels or improving”. The document also warns that there are fewer carers in social care and those that are are being paid less than NHS staff and are leaving at higher wages.
And it warned that its ambitions to recruit more support workers for the NHS “should not come at the expense of exacerbating the labor shortages that exist elsewhere in the social care sector”.
Mr. Taylor told The Independent: “The plan is based on significant increases in productivity in the NHS, but there is no question that one of the factors making it difficult to achieve productivity gains in the NHS is the state of social care and the fact that it is that social care is not like that.” I am not able to simultaneously take on the role of prevention and treat people outside the hospital as much as possible.
“I think the NHS workforce plan is a three-legged chair and the other two legs are welfare and capital. If we don’t sort out the fundamental issues in our welfare system, the NHS workforce plan will have less of an impact than we might have hoped.”
He added, “Government after government has put off the question of solving the fundamental question of how we fund our social care system for an aging population… One of the reasons people end up in hospital is the lack of social care.” Social care plays an incredibly important role in maintaining people’s independence and well-being. When people are not getting the social care they need, they are more likely to become physically or mentally unwell and turn to NHS services.”
Julie Bass, chief executive of the charity Turning Point, said the lack of proposals to tackle the social services workforce crisis would inevitably have consequences for the NHS.
“Safe and quality health services cannot be provided without adequately resourced caregivers. A nursing home or domestic worker can earn more per hour as a clerk in a branch or supermarket. The government must act to eliminate the 165,000 vacancies across the care sector. Otherwise, more people whose lives depend on support will not receive it.”
And Cllr David Fothergill, chair of the Local Government Association’s Community Wellbeing Board, said the “major recruitment and retention crisis” within the sector called for “equal appreciation with the NHS”.
“Given the overlap between the two workforces, urgent action is needed on pay and working conditions to attract new people to welfare and reduce turnover. A dedicated plan to protect, support and develop social care careers would both enhance the well-being and recognition of those working in this important profession and benefit the people who use care.”
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