Palliative care social work faces recruitment problems in England after a survey revealed almost half of specialist practitioners were aged over 50.
The National Council for Palliative Care warned that an ageing social work and nursing workforce, combined with nursing shortages, could adversely affect the quality of care received by people at the end of life, as it released its latest Specialist Palliative Care Workforce Survey.
Based on 2010 figures, the survey found that, though social work numbers had remained stable from 2009-10, 44.7% of social workers who specialised in palliative care were aged over 50. The NCPC said the issue needed to be addressed.
The survey also revealed that 39% of palliative care nurses were aged over 50 and the the number of specialist nurses declined by 6.9% in the period 2008-10, despite the introduction of the End of Life Care Strategy for England in 2008.
Significant staff shortages were also found, with an average vacancy rate among specialist nurses of 8.7% and among specialist palliative care consultants of 7.8%.
The concerns come with the number of people dying each year projected to increase from 500,000 at present to 586,000 by 2030.
“The biggest challenge to all the professional groups is the ageing profile of the workforce and the uncertainty at this time of where future workforce planning and education funding will reside under the new primary care / GP Commissioning NHS,” the report said.
NCPC chief executive Eve Richardson said: “The care of dying people will be seriously threatened without a greater focus on recruitment of palliative care specialists. We only get one chance to get end of life care right, which is why the concerns we have raised must be treated as a real priority.”
The survey was sent out to specialist palliative care providers in England.
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