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Staff shortages worse than before the pandemic

Care sector bosses in England are struggling to recruit staff, with more jobs unfilled than before the pandemic. And while the number of unfilled jobs fell at the start of the pandemic, they rose this year as the economy opened up.

Those are the major findings of Skills for Care’s annual Social Care Sector and Workforce in England report, based on data provided by a representative sample of employers of England’s 1.54 million care workers.

Employers are also finding it harder to keep existing staff, the report finds, while the government says extra funding and a regular recruitment drive will help boost the workforce.

The researchers calculate that employers were failing to fill eight per cent of posts before the pandemic.

Figures obtained since suggest this had fallen to below 6% by June last year – but by August this year, the trend had reversed, with 8.2% of care sector roles unfilled. This amounts to more than 100,000 posts with no-one to fill them, says Skills for Care.

Turnover rates across the sector remain high, at 28.5% in 2020/21. This figure had decreased during the pandemic, but since March 2021 many employers report that retention is now more difficult than before the pandemic. The rate was higher for registered nurses at 38.2%, much higher than for their counterparts in the NHS (8.8%).

Chief Executive of the Social Care Institute for Excellence, Kathryn Smith, said: “Only two days ago there were rumours of a National Care Service being created. Today’s Skills for Care report shows that the government’s ambition of integrating the NHS and social care is currently far from achievable because of the critical workforce shortage in social care.

“Tackling the pandemic-related backlog in NHS treatments requires stabilising social care. The two systems depend on each other, even if they are not fully integrated. Understaffing in social care delays hospital discharges, reduces care home places and limits the availability of home-based care. 

“We’ve been calling for a sustained increase in funding to stabilise the social care system and meet growing demand. The Skills for Care report highlights again that funding is desperately needed and must be ring-fenced.”

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