Health and care officials must recruit the equivalent of Newcastle’s population, the care regulator has said, as it warned of a stalemate that was crippling services and putting people’s health at risk.
It is becoming “increasingly difficult” to access care, with one of the main reasons for the impasse being the lack of manpower, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) has warned.
There are around 132,000 vacancies in the NHS and 165,000 in social services – which the CQC says is roughly equivalent to the entire population of the city of Newcastle.
Chief executive Ian Trenholm said the recruitment challenge facing health and care leaders “is going to translate into real hardship” this winter and in the years to come.
The regulator said it has seen a significant increase over the past year in the number of people stuck in hospital because there is not enough social care for them on discharge.
In some cases, almost half the hospital is full of people medically fit to be discharged but waiting for social assistance, he said.
Beds are available, but some care homes are closing their doors to new arrivals because they cannot provide safe levels of staff.
And some nursing homes have to re-register as care homes because care staff leave and struggle to recruit replacements.
Mr Trenholm said the impact of the traffic jam is that people find it difficult to see their GP or dentist, wait longer to get to hospital and, once there, can get stranded.
He said: ‘And it’s not just a consequence of the care. There is also an economic consequence to all this.
“Sick people cannot return to work because they are in a backlog, in a kind of queue waiting for care.
“But also if they are caring for someone, they often have to change the way they work to care for a loved one because social services are not available as people would like.”
Figures from the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services show that more than half a million people (542,002) were awaiting the start of assessments, examinations or care by April 30 this year.
Separate data from the Skills for Care workforce body shows the number of filled positions fell – by around 50,000 – between 2020-21 and 2021-22 for the first time on record.
The CQC report also warned that the rising cost of living could lead to more healthcare workers leaving for better paid work.
He said the amount commissioners pay for home care affects providers’ ability to recruit and retain staff and reward them fairly.
At a recent conference organized by social welfare bodies, presentations were made on how home-based care providers can advise staff on accessing food banks or applying for benefits to supplement salaries , did he declare.
The regulator also pointed out that an unprecedented number of care workers in the south east resigned in May and June due to fuel costs.
The CQC said that without action more health and care staff will quit, services will be further stretched and people will be at greater risk of harm.
This will be particularly pronounced in the most deprived areas, where access to care outside of hospitals is most under pressure.
Kate Terroni, Chief Inspector of Adult Social Care, called for a “real step change” in thinking about how to attract and retain staff.
She said: ‘The money announced by the government to help get people out of hospital faster when they are medically fit to leave, as well as to retain and recruit more carers is welcome – but it needs to be done. focus more on the long-term planning and investment rather than short-term band-aids.
Mike Padgham, director of the Independent Care Group, which represents providers in York and North Yorkshire, called the report “a damning indictment of the way the country continues to treat the care of our most vulnerable”.
Caroline Abrahams, charity director of Age UK, said older people suffered preventable harm and staff were “overwhelmed and pushed to breaking point trying to do the right thing”.
Dr Rhidian Hughes, chief executive of the Voluntary Organizations Disability Group, said: “Government has the power to fix the impasse reported by the CQC, but political distractions and turbulence risk throwing us off course.”
Sally Warren, Policy Director at the King’s Fund, said: “The Government must approach any impending fiscal squeeze with an eye open to the consequences for the people who rely on and rightly expect good quality treatment and care and in right time.”
A spokesman for the Department of Health and Social Care said: ‘It is essential that we provide patients with the level of care they expect and deserve. The Care Quality Commission report identifies the same priorities for improvement set out by the Secretary of Health and Social Care in our plan for patients.
“The plan – ABCD – is designed to address ambulance pressures, reduce the backlog, support hospital care and discharge, and improve access to doctors and dentists.
“The NHS has set out its winter plan, including the launch of rapid response teams to help those who have fallen home as well as 24/7 traffic control centers to manage demand and the capacity across the country.”
NHS Medical Director Professor Sir Stephen Powis said staff were working hard to keep patients safe despite record demand and workforce pressures, and people should continue to turn up for the care they need.