Social Care recruitment crisis leaving carers overstretched and the elderly without support.
Recruitment crisis has left families struggling to find help – and put more pressure on overstretched carers.
There was a hollow laugh last week when the Observer asked a social care official about the crisis engulfing the sector. “Crisis? Which one?”
Recruitment is one. The sector employs about 1.5 million people, but the number of vacancies is at about 120,000 and growing. This leads to crisis number two, unmet need.
Waiting lists have grown to 300,000 people – a rise of 26% in three months, according to the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services. Around 11,000 people have been waiting for more than six months for local authorities to assess their needs.
Each statistic hints at human misery. Fiona Tierney’s 84-year-old mother Sonia, who lives in a village in Gloucestershire, has needed personal care for the past three years.
“We found a wonderful care company who came out two hours a day,” Tierney said. “But they were coming from Cheltenham, a 45-minute drive away. Six months ago they said they were incredibly sorry, but they just didn’t have the staff any more to help her on a daily basis.”
Since then, Tierney and her sister have struggled to find care for their mother. “We must have called over 20 care companies,” she said. Some providers have stepped in to offer temporary emergency help, – “the owner of one company came out a few times because they couldn’t find anyone” – and for the past six weeks they have had carers. “My mother is terrified it’s going to go wrong again. If that happens we’ll have to go back to the top of the list. There isn’t anyone else to ask.”
The NHS is also being affected. Last week the John Radcliffe hospital in Oxford declared an operational emergency, appealing for help from providers, because it was unable to discharge patients due to a shortage of care staff.
Eddy McDowall, the chief executive of the Oxfordshire Association of Care Providers, said members were seeing their worst recruitment crisis for 10 years. “The worry is that it is just mid-September. The peak happens just after Christmas, when families have had elderly and frail relatives to stay and when they go home there’s a surge in illness.”
For people working in care, the shortage of staff means they have more to do and less time to do it in.
“The social care workforce is completely falling to pieces,” said Charles Armitage, the co-founder of Florence, an online recruitment platform which helps care providers fill rota gaps. “They kept it together during the pandemic, but over the last six to eight weeks, managers have been trying to fill more and more shifts.”
Florence works with about 5% of England’s providers and until May most were able to fill about 75% of their shifts. That dropped to just 40% over the summer. Armitage said the pingdemic, Brexit and school holidays have all had an effect. “We’re seeing a lot of care workers go to hospitality or retail – getting joining bonuses. We haven’t yet seen the impact of mandatory vaccinations, but anecdotally we are hearing people are leaving social care to work in the NHS.”
Elly Stroe is a nurse who has specialised in elderly care for five years. “I am really afraid about the future,” she said. “Every shift we are missing two or three people and we struggle to find nurses and carers all the time. Every night there are different people at work and it’s very difficult for the residents to see new faces every day.”
While many care assistants are dedicated, Stroe said the low wages meant that some were unmotivated. “Some do not turn up on time, or they don’t answer their phones,” she said. “They know they can’t be replaced easily. I know a lot of people who do two jobs – they work nights with me, than during the day they do pizza delivery or driving for Amazon. They’re not doing the job as a long-term career but to save money to help with their studies. Caring is hard work and people need training.”