NHS leaders warn social care workforce crisis risks patient safety

NHS leaders across England say staffing gaps and a lack of capacity in social care are putting the care and safety of patients in the NHS at risk.

Almost 250 NHS leaders responding to an NHS Confederation survey say that patients are being delayed in hospital much longer than they should, with the knock-on impact resulting in higher demand on A&E departments and longer ambulance response times.

NHS leaders are urging the Government to increase investment in care services, including by boosting wages for care workers. They say failure to act will leave more and more vulnerable people without the care and support they need, as well as piling further pressure on front-line NHS services.

doctors doing surgery inside emergency room

The stark results from the survey of NHS providers, primary care and integrated care system leaders paint a picture of a social care system struggling to cope with demand and a pressing need for a long-term pay and funding strategy for the sector.

Nine in ten leaders report that the pressure from the fall out of a lack of appropriate and timely social care pathways for people leaving hospital is having the biggest impact in A&E, with almost the same number (86%) saying this is having a huge knock-on effect on ambulance response times. Almost three quarters also say their efforts to bring down waiting lists are being hampered by a lack of social care capacity.

Of the near 250 NHS leaders who responded to the survey, almost all said that the one immediate single change the Government could make now to alleviate the pressure on the social care system would be to increase pay for social care staff.

NHS leaders recently calling on the Government to immediately implement a national care worker minimum wage of £10.50 an hour.

They warned that without an increase above the hourly wage seen across many other industries, including that paid to staff working in supermarkets and across retail, as well as the NHS itself, the social care sector in England will continue to haemorrhage staff.

Commenting on the survey results Lord Victor Adebowale, chair of the NHS Confederation, said: ‘Decades of delay and inertia have left social care services chronically underfunded and in desperate need of more support.

‘NHS leaders stand alongside their sister services in social care in wanting a rescue package for the sector. They are sounding the alarm and sending a clear message to Government that the social care system has not been ‘fixed’.  

‘This failure to invest in services and wages for care workers has led to huge vacancies and a lack of capacity. This is contributing to the big problems we are seeing in A&E departments, in terms of longer ambulance handover times, and when it comes to hospitals not being able to discharge medically fit patients when they are ready to go home or into a care home.

‘Without immediate action, both the NHS and social care could face an endless winter of people being failed by the very systems that should be there to support them at their most vulnerable.’

Nadra Ahmed OBE, chairman of the National Care Association, added: ‘It feels inconceivable that the light bulb hasn’t gone on in the hearts and minds of those who can work towards a sustainable resolution to the challenges. Our NHS colleagues need social care to support them in creating a seamless service but without investment in social care and our workforce this feels unattainable.’


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