The CQC annual report published on the 22nd October 2021 has highlighted the pandemics effects on the industry, which has exacerbated the inequalities in care. The report analyses the additional strain on carers which has intensified during the pandemic, including the increasing burden now placed on volunteers. Carers UK estimated in June 2020 that an additional 4.5 million people had become unpaid carers since the pandemic began, bringing the total to 13.6 million. They said that 2.8 million people who had started caring since the outbreak were also juggling paid work and care. Carers UK have reported how unpaid carers have increased the amount of care they have given loved ones by October 2020, 81% of unpaid carers said that they were providing more care since the start of the pandemic. This is due to the social care sector struggling to maintain demand amid staffing shortages, largely due to existing health and social care staff who are exhausted and the workforce now being depleted. People across all professions, and carers and volunteers, have worked tirelessly to help those who needed care. The negative impact of working under this sustained pressure, including anxiety, stress and burnout, cannot be underestimated. This is contributing to the existing recruitment crisis for the industry. Furthermore, it was highlighted that staff sickness rates were up in adult social care last year – pre-pandemic sickness rates for adult social care staff were 2.6%, whereas these almost doubled to 5% between March 2020 and June 2021. This further intensified the staff shortage crisis and has led to providers struggling to meet care demands.
Additionally, access to care for those who need it has been a concern in the pandemic. In July 2021, the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services released their Spring Survey, reporting that almost 75,000 older and younger disabled people were waiting for assessments for care and support, with social care struggling to cope with people’s needs arising from the pandemic.
This CQC’s annual report summarises the wider health and social care industry concerns. One of these concerns is the sustainability of home care providers following on the from the pandemics effects. In July 2021 the Association Directors of Adult Social Service, 82% of directors reported that they were concerned about the sustainability of some of their home care providers, and 77% about some of their care home providers. One of the report’s key messages was that “COVID-19 short-term funding has helped to prevent failure but there is profound uncertainty about the future”. One way to combat this and to aid recovery is to accelerate the shift towards innovation and the use of technology in service models. It has been emphasised that a good recovery should maintain this innovation where it has been successful. In order to do this, there needs to be an evaluation on where innovation has been successful, evaluating its impact on people using services and its wider implications on the system and industry which seeks sustainability and stability in the future.
However, the most pressing concern threatening the industry still remains. This is the dire state of recruitment and staff retention which is threatening the industry. Urgent action is needed to tackle staffing pressures and the stresses caused by staff shortages, and the long-term impact of emotional exhaustion of staff. Monthly data from information submitted to CQC by providers of residential care shows their staff vacancy rate rising steadily from 6.0% in April 2021 to 10.2% in September 2021. This is further exacerbated by the mandatory vaccinations, with concerns that staff may leave on a mass exodus and turn to alternative industries such as hospitality and travel. These fears are due to the industries speeding up recruitment and offering incentives to new staff as they open back up to full scale again, whilst having less responsibility and better levels of pay and progression. These combined with the effects of the requirement for all care home workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19, may lead to more care staff leaving, unless a new deal for the care workforce is developed. Any new deal for the care workforce should consider recruitment, retention, training, pay and rewards, the professionalisation of the workforce, and workforce resilience.