Shortage of care nurses highlighted by NAO

The Department of Health and Social Care is not doing enough to support a sustainable social care workforce. The number of people working in care is not meeting the country’s growing care demands and unmet care needs are increasing, according to today’s report by the National Audit Office.

Low rates of pay and pressures of workload mean care services can no longer fill key posts in England. The NAO blamed a lack of government planning and funding for what it calls a ‘Cinderella’ service which has 1.34 million staff.

The sector was struggling in particular to recruit nurses and senior staff to run services, causing the elderly and disabled to go without care, it said.

The government has promised a Green Paper with fresh proposals to be published by the summer.

The report says 6.6% of posts are unfilled; 28% of workers leave their jobs every year; and there are 8000 fewer social care nurses than four years ago.  

The NAO calls for changes as there is no guarantee the extra £2 billion being invested in the sector over the next three years would have any significant impact.

One in 11 nursing posts was vacant, after the numbers working in the sector fell by 8,000 to 43,000 in the past four years. One in nine register-manager jobs was unfilled.

The NAO said councils were struggling to find the money to fund services and that this meant people who paid their own fees were effectively subsidising the state, something that was highlighted in the recent Competition and Markets Authority report.

The head of the NAO, Amyas Morse said: “Social care cannot continue as a Cinderella service – without a valued and rewarded workforce.”

Caroline Abrahams

Caroline Abrahams, of Age UK, said the report was a “damning indictment of the failure of successive governments” and meant frail older people were going without the care they needed.

Professor Martin GreenProfessor Martin Green, chief executive of Care England said: “The NAO’s report provides yet more evidence that the social care system is fit to burst and that the Government is not doing enough to support the social care workforce. Workforce is the most valuable asset to care providers and they need to be able to support, develop and pay them appropriately.  

“No more reviews, no more consultations; let Government press ahead with all the necessary partners, to provide some much needed direction to a sector that is struggling.”

The Social Care Institute for Excellence said that as well as tackling problems with pay and conditions for a predominantly female workforce, there was also a need to look at alternative routes into the care profession.

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