Why we need a long-term workforce plan for social care too

Staffing in social care is in crisis and failing to create a long-term workforce plan for the sector will have lasting implications for older people and the NHS

A smiling care worker combs the hair of an older woman who is looking content as she looks into the distance
Picture: Charles Milligan

While the government is keen to ‘recognise’ that health and social care are interdependent in its long-awaited NHS Long Term Workforce Plan for England, it ignores the need for an equivalent plan for social care.

Much has been made of the focus on nursing recruitment and retention in the plan, but this is even more critical in adult social care where many readers of Nursing Older People work. Staff vacancies across the sector run at 165,000 – which is more than the NHS. Skills for Care figures indicate a nurse turnover rate in social care of 44% compared with 11% for NHS counterparts, and a nurse vacancy rate of 14%.

Successive governments have swerved the issue of how social care should be funded and reformed

Perversely, the workforce plan acknowledges that ‘pressures in adult social care directly impact on the NHS’.

Perhaps the lack of an equivalent plan is unsurprising. After all, for decades both Labour and Conservative governments have swerved the issue of how social care should even be funded and reformed.

Meanwhile, demand for social care continues to rise. An increasingly ageing population means that more older people are living with frailty and multiple long-term physical and mental health conditions. They are the biggest users of health and social care services, with complex needs that require specialist provision and optimisation of their quality of life.

Social care must be given parity with healthcare

If the government is truly committed to the interdependence of the two sectors, to rewarding the nursing staff who provide skilled and complex care, and to attracting and retaining entrants, social care must be given parity with healthcare.

A robust long-term plan for social care would surely serve to strengthen recruitment, retention and development of the nursing workforce and improve care for older people and their families.

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