Adult social care nurses: the shrinking workforce in need of a long-term strategy

Care home jobs for nurses continue to decline as ministers are urged to invest and plan

Nurse turnover in the sector far higher than in the NHS, although average salaries are up

Picture: Charles Milligan

Adult social care in England has 2,800 fewer nurse jobs than a year ago, but their pay is better overall, a report found.

The figures mean the sector’s nurse workforce has shrunk by almost a third (30%) in seven years, with diluted skills mix one possible factor.

The Skills for Care research estimates there were *36,000 nurse jobs in the sector in 2019/20, 7% fewer than in the previous year and in stark contrast to 2012/13, when the figure stood at 51,000.

High vacancy rates despite reduction in nurse posts

The authors' suggest part of the reason for the downward trend is the introduction of the nursing associate role in England, and say they will continue to monitor the situation.

Despite the contraction in nurse posts, social care employers still struggle with recruitment – an estimated average of 12.3% (4,200) of all nurse posts were vacant at any one time, while sector-wide vacancies were considerably lower, at 7.3%, the research found.

Pay and staff turnover in care homes

However, the report points to improved pay, with an average salary *£31,800 in 2019/20.

Adjusting for inflation, this means social care nurse pay rose 23% since 2012/13, when the average salary was £25,900.

But the turnover among nurses in adult social care is much higher than in the NHS.

Skills for Care report found a 41.3% turnover in 2019/20, in compared to 9.4% for NHS nurses and health visitors.

Picture: iStock

Pay parity and safe staffing – the need for long-term plan for social care is ‘pressing’

RCN executive lead for the independent and health care sectors, Theresa Fyffe, said the the figures were shocking.

Minister for social care in England Helen Whatley

‘It is more pressing than ever for the government to commit to a long-term plan for social care, including ensuring equity in pay for staff across publicly funded services, and a clear workforce strategy to ensure staffing levels in social care are safe and effective,’ she said.

Care minister Helen Whatley said: ‘Recognising the recruitment challenge, we have run a national recruitment campaign highlighting the important work care workers do and launched the Join Social Care online recruitment tool.’

The Department of Health and Social Care did not respond to a request to explain how it planned to address the contraction of the nurse workforce in social care.

*The Skills for Care report rounds job figures to the nearest 500, and figures for salaries to the nearest £100.

MPs in call for long-term investment plan for social care

The Skills for Care report comes as the House of Commons health and social care committee called on ministers to invest £7 billion per year in social care sector in England by the end of the current parliament.

The RCN’s Theresa Fyffe

In their social care workforce and funding report, MPs argued this money would only address immediate risk of collapse of the sector, and would not cover long-term needs.

Committee chair Jeremy Hunt said: ‘It would not increase access or quality of care. To address wider issues, the sector needs a ten-year plan and a people plan just like the NHS.’

RCN executive lead for the independent and health care sectors Theresa Fyffe, said: ‘Even before the pandemic, social care has been struggling with a massively depleted workforce and a growing number of those in need of vital care.

‘Unless this latest warning is heeded many more of those most vulnerable will be left without the care they need.’

A Department of Health and Care spokesperson said the government was working on a long-term plan for social care.

‘We know there is a need for a long-term solution for social care and are looking at a range of proposals as part of our commitment to bringing forward a plan that puts the sector on a sustainable footing for the future,’ they said.

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