The Care Quality Commisison has joined the call for increased pay for care staff after its annual State of Care report warned failing to invest in staff risked a ‘tsunami of unmet need’.
The regulator said care homes were being forced to cancel their registrations to provide nursing care because of mounting staff shortages, leaving residents having to find new homes in areas that were already close to capacity.
The CQC found that staff vacancies in residential care had risen from 6% to 10.2% from April to September 2021, as care homes battle competition for staff from retail and hospitality sectors. This is ahead of the introduction, next month, of a requirement for care home staff to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19, which the government estimates will cost the sector 40,000 jobs.
In a foreword to the report, CQC chief executive Ian Trenholm and chair Peter Wyman, cited the £5.4bn the government has allocated for social care reform from 2022-25, including £500m for the workforce, saying: “If the funding for social care is to have any impact, there must be a sharp focus on developing a clearly defined career pathway for social care staff – linked to training and supported by consistent investment, higher overall levels of pay to increase the competitiveness of the market, and good terms and conditions to ensure employers can attract and retain the right people.”
‘Tsunami of unmet need’
“The alternative is that the sector will continue to lose staff to the retail and hospitality industries. This will lead to reduced capacity and choice, and poorer quality care for the people who rely on social care – resulting in a ripple effect across the wider health and care system that risks becoming a tsunami of unmet need across all sectors, with increasing numbers of people unable to access care.”
The regulator’s warning about the state of the workforce joins those of several other sector bodies over several months. Earlier this week, provider body the National Care Forum and UNISON warned health and social care secretary Sajid Javid that an immediate pay boost was needed to stop providers having to turn down requests for care.
A survey of care managers by the NCF and the Outstanding Manager Network found vacancy rates of 17%, while Skills for Care’s annual state of the adult social care workforce last week reported mounting vacancies, rising sick leave and a reduced supply of staff from overseas.
Recruitment and retention fund
The ring-fenced funding, announced yesterday by the DHSC, will be allocated to local authorities to distribute to providers for use on recruitment and measures to retain staff.
The latter may include overtime payments and provision to fund bank working, as well as occupational health provision to support health and wellbeing.
Minister for care Gillian Keegan said: “The social care workforce has delivered high-quality care in the most challenging circumstances over the past 18 months – showing true dedication and professionalism – and I can’t thank them enough.
“This funding will help care providers recruit and retain staff, supporting both those already making a difference while bringing in new colleagues to help.”
Stability of social care is key
The CQC said that improving the stability of social care was not only key to improving access and quality of care for people needing care, but to easing pressures on the NHS.
It called for short-term, Covid-related funding, allocated to the NHS since March 2020 to enable people to be discharged from hospital quickly by providing care and support, to be extended long-term.
Trenholm and Wyman said this had “improved patient flow and has made a crucial difference to the viability of some social care providers”.
They added: “If this funding were to be committed to for a longer period, care providers could begin to make longer term investments in staffing and buildings to provide much-needed step-down care.”
However, they said the sector also needed an immediate funding boost this winter to help areas struggling with mounting demand.