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NHS health chiefs demand ‘urgent’ plan to tackle social care crisis

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Healthcare leaders have called for an urgent plan to tackle the social care crisis, warning Rishi Sunak there is “clear concern” over an ongoing failure to tackle staff shortages.

The warning from Matthew Taylor, chief executive of NHS Confederation which represents hospitals and community services, comes after the publication of the long-awaited £2.4bn NHS workforce plan, which committed to 300,000 extra nurses and doctors in the coming years.

Mr Taylor said any benefits to improve NHS staffing will be “limited” without an equivalent strategy for the social care sector, which currently has 165,000 vacant posts.

Health bosses, represented by NHS Confederation, have now written to the prime minister asking for “urgent intervention” and calling for a clear plan for improving pay and conditions to attract staff.

Martin Green, chief executive for Care England that represents care homes, warned that the sector “is in the midst of a workforce crisis, which is going to get worse not getting better”.

He welcomed the NHS Confederation’s letter and said unless similar improvements were made within social care, there would be more “cancelled opreations, more people languishing in hospital when they don’t need to and the whole breakdown of the system”.

The letter, from the NHS Confederation chair Sir Victor Adebowale, said: “We urge you on behalf of NHS leaders across the country to intervene to ensure that a similar exercise is now commissioned for this vital workforce.

“Our motivation in seeking your urgent intervention is because our members know that social care provision is essential to the communities we serve, and because we also know that the risks faced by our colleagues in relation to their workforce are profound.”

The flagship NHS plan announced on Friday states that its ambitions are “predicated on access to social care services remaining in line with current levels or improving”. The document also warns social care has fewer nurses and those it does have are paid less than NHS workers and are leaving at higher rates.

And it warned that its ambitions to recruit more support workers for the NHS “should not come at the expense of exacerbating workforce shortages that exist elsewhere in the social care sector”.

The NHS workforce plan warned that boosting staffing levels in the NHS should not come at the cost of the social care sector

(PA Wire)

Mr Taylor told The Independent: “The plan is based on a significant increase in productivity in the NHS but there’s no question that one of the things that makes it difficult to achieve productivity gains in the NHS is the state that social care is in, and the fact social care isn’t able to play the role of prevention in one hand and treat people as much as possible outside of the hospital.

“I think the NHS workforce plan is a three-legged stool and the two other legs are social care and capital and if we don’t sort out the fundamental issues within our social care system then the NHS workforce plan is going to have less impact then we might have hoped.”

He added: “Government after government has put off the question of resolving the fundamental question of how we fund our social care system for an ageing population. Part of the reason people end up in a hospital is because of the weakness in social care, social care plays an incredibly important role in maintaining people’s independence and people’s well-being and if people are not getting the social care they need it’s more likely they will become physically or mentally unwell and flow into NHS services.”

Julie Bass, chief executive of the charity Turning Point, said the lack of proposals to tackle the social care workforce crisis would inevitably have consequences for the NHS.

“Safe and high-quality health services cannot be delivered without a properly resourced care workforce. A care home or domiciliary worker can earn more per hour as a high street sales assistant or in a supermarket. The government must act to address the 165,000 vacancies across the care sector. Otherwise, more people whose lives depend on support will not receive it.”

And Cllr David Fothergill, chairman of the Local Government Association’s community wellbeing board, said the “huge recruitment and retention crisis” within the sector needs “parity of esteem with the NHS”.

“Considering the overlapping nature of both workforces, urgent action is needed on pay and conditions to attract new people to social care and reduce turnover. A dedicated plan to protect, support and develop careers in social care would both strengthen the wellbeing and recognition of those who work in this essential vocation, as well as benefit the people who draw on care.”

No 10 has been asked to comment.