Sharp rise in vacancies placing ‘significant stress’ on social care OTs, warns college

One in nine occupational therapy roles in local authority adults' services now vacant, as OT leaders say pay, culture and lack of parity with NHS colleagues are key factors

Old metal sign with the inscription Vacancies
Photo: Zerbor/Adobe Stock

A sharp rise in vacancy rates for council occupational therapists is putting “significant stress” on remaining practitioners, OT leaders have warned.

As of September 2022, 11.3% of OT posts in council adults’ services departments were vacant, up from 8.9% a year previously and 7.1% in September 2022, according to the latest workforce data from Skills for Care.

Staff turnover was also up, hitting 14.4% in the year to September 2022, up from 12% in the 12 months prior to that, while OTs were also taking more time off sick, rising from 7.6 days per year in 2020-21 to 9.1 days in 2021-22.

And reflecting the impact of high rates of inflation, real-terms pay for the staff group was down by 6.7% in 2021-22, with the average local authority OT earning £38,900 as of September last year.

The Royal College of Occupational Therapists (RCOT) said the figures did not come as a surprise to the profession.

OTs facing ‘significant stress’

“We know occupational therapists working in social care are dealing with significant staff shortages, with over two-thirds of respondents in our recent workforce survey indicating they are in teams that are not fully staffed,” said professional adviser Lauren Walker.

“Those staff left behind are experiencing increasing workloads and significant stress which is having an impact on their own mental and physical wellbeing.”

Walker added: “Whilst the government has spoken of the need to address this workforce challenge, the solutions coming forward are merely sticking plasters when it is clear that more fundamental reform of social care is required.

“Last year we laid out a roadmap to solving the workforce crisis which included placing a greater focus on OTs and the contribution they can make to meeting the rehabilitation challenge and also in tackling delayed discharge.

“We also spoke of the need to focus on the reasons why people are leaving the social care workforce such as pay, flexible working patterns, workplace culture and the lack of parity with colleagues working in the NHS.  As these figures so clearly demonstrate there remains a significant recruitment challenge and we need to be doing more to encourage people from all backgrounds to train as a care professional.”

Social workers and OTs critical to meeting new targets

The OT figures follow similar trends in relation to adults’ social workers within local authorities, among whom turnover and sickness absence have reached record levels, with vacancies also up and pay down in real terms.

The pressures on both workforces comes with councils facing targets to reduce delayed discharges from hospitals and cut waiting times for social care, for which the capacity of social workers and OTs to carry out assessments and arrange care packages will be critical.

For the RCOT, Walker added: “Ultimately, OTs working in social care are vital in supporting people to be discharged from hospital successfully, but also in ensuring that people can remain independent in their home thus reducing their reliance on domiciliary and residential care which is under profound pressure.”

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One Response to Sharp rise in vacancies placing ‘significant stress’ on social care OTs, warns college

  1. Steven February 24, 2023 at 2:37 pm #

    I left Social Work due to incompetence of our regulator SWE.