According to the most recent annual report from Skills to Care – an independent charity working to ensure social care has the right people, skills and support – there is an 11% staff shortage in care homes. That’s 165,000 unfilled positions in England, double the national average.
Just filling these roles is not enough, however, as there are also high staff turnover rates of 29%, meaning the demand will continue to rise.
On top of this, 28% of staff (430,000 roles) are over 55 years old and so it’s a reasonable assumption that they’ll be set for retirement within the next ten years, which is likely to increase turnover rates further.
One of the initiatives the government has taken to try and address these shortages was to award 58,000 12-month health and care visas in 2022, enabling workers from abroad to temporarily plug some of the gaps. However, in an attempt to reduce immigration numbers, they are looking to restrict the number of these visas, reducing overall immigration numbers by 82,000. (This will include partners and dependents of those on the visas.)
It seems like this will make it more difficult to bridge the shortfall if the potential workforce is being limited. And care work is not being made to seem particularly attractive in terms of employment prospects. It’s no wonder people are leaving in droves when four in every five jobs in the wider economy pay more than the median pay and those care workers who are five years into the job are only paid 7p per hour more than those with less than a year under their belt.
The NHS isn’t faring much better. Although it’s on course to hit the government’s headline target of an additional 50,000 full-time equivalent number of nurses by March 2024, the supply in is still not keeping pace with demand and those extra nurses aren’t having substantial impact on the shortfall present.
Of course, it’s all connected and we’re at a point where there’s gridlock in the whole health and care system. Not enough care workers means delays in moving people out of hospitals and into care homes. This not only increases the demands on NHS staff (contributing to high turnover levels there too) but also reduces capacity to help those further along the chain.
Earlier this year the Government announced it would provide more money to help fix this problem – up to another £250million on top of £500million already committed. This funding was specifically to ‘buy up beds in care homes to safely discharge thousands of patients from hospital’. At the time of the announcement, 13,000 people in England were in hospital but fit to be discharged (and one assumes hadn’t been discharged because there was nowhere safe for them to go).
What I don’t really understand is how throwing money at the problem will help if the underlying issue is a lack of staff, unless of course the money is used to pay better wages and therefore attract more staff.
The powers that be are clearly aware of the problem and we can only hope they have a plan, and that plan works.