The adult social care (“ASC”) sector has been experiencing a staffing crisis that has only been exacerbated by the pandemic. Not enough staff has meant that many providers are unable to deliver the high quality care that service users deserve. Despite continual pleas for help, the Government appears to be out of touch with the effects the current crisis has on ASC. However, it appears that the pleas are not going completely unanswered and a Government Committee Panel is set to investigate the workforce crisis.
The Government has promised £5.4 billion for ASC over the next three years, with £500 million annexed specifically for workforce pressures. However, this is not nearly enough to meet the demand for higher wages and rising operating costs. Further, the removal of statutory sick pay requirements for COVID-19 isolation and the infection control fund (“ICF”) has put additional financial pressure on providers in recent months.
It has been reported that as many as 43% of providers are refusing to admit new residents because of staffing shortages. This is due to a combination of not enough funding and restrictive measures in place to help prevent the spread and contraction of COVID-19 in care settings. Restrictions have meant that more staff are off work for longer periods. However, with less funding available to support those workers – specifically those off with COVID-19 – this has meant that providers are unable to properly fund replacement staff, which reduces their capacity and thus ability to take on new service users.
There have been calls for government reform, including changing the definition of an outbreak, currently defined at two or more positive cases within 14 days, and reinstating the ICF. It has also been suggested that the NHS start paying a premium to discharge patients to care settings in order to offset costs and give providers more financial resources to mitigate the staffing issues.
The Government has responded initially with an inquiry into progress on fulfilling pledges made to the ASC sector, particularly as they relate to the workforce crisis. The inquiry will be conducted by the Health and Social Care Committee’s Expert Panel (“Panel”) – who are independent from the Committee itself – and will focus on three main areas:
- Planning for the Workforce;
- Building a Skilled Workforce; and
- Wellbeing at Work.
Importantly, the Panel will use interviews of key healthcare stakeholders and written evidence provided on a voluntary basis to evaluate how effective the Government has been in delivering on its pledges. Providers should take advantage of this opportunity to submit their own evidence in order to best demonstrate the struggles that ASC is currently facing.
This inquiry will be crucial in determining what action needs to be taken to address the workforce crisis moving forward. Providers should be urged to get as involved in they can and make their voices heard. This is a unique and rare opportunity for providers to feedback directly to the highest level decision makers.