The highest vacancy rate in social care is among registered nursing in England, at 12.3%, a report published today has found.
Skills for Care estimated that there are 112,000 unfilled posts overall in English social care, equivalent to 7.3% of the workforce. This is a fall from 7.6% last year.
But nursing is the worst affected role in the sector, with numbers standing at 36,000 – a drop of nearly a tenth (7%) since 2019 and 30% since 2012, when nursing posts stood at 51,000.
The report suggested the shrinking nursing workforce ‘could be related to recruitment and retention’ problems. The number of nursing assistant roles – such as nursing associates – is also increasing, meaning some tasks previously carried out by nurses are taken on by others.
RCN executive lead for the independent and health care sectors Theresa Fyffe said the ‘shocking’ figures are a ‘direct result of the failure to plan and invest in this vital part of the health and care system’, despite ‘the needs of the population increasing and becoming more complex’.
She continued: ‘Nursing staff who work in the social care sector deliver care to some of the most vulnerable people in society and are responsible for making complex decisions about their care.’
Turnover among nurses in social care also stands at 41.3% – equivalent to around 12,500 leavers – which is higher than their NHS counterparts (at 9.4%) and care workers (at 38.1%).
The UK’s new point-based immigration system, set to be adopted from January 2021, also means care workers will not be able to as easily immigrate into the UK. They do not qualify for the health and care visa, although nurses do.
Ms Fyffe argued that the proposals mean ‘social care settings will not be able to recruit much-needed staff in the short term’, which ‘will ultimately impact on patient care and community services’.
However, care worker pay has increased at a faster rate since the introduction of the National Living Wage in 2016, at an average of 3.9% a year compared to 1.9% the year prior.
The Adult Social Care Workforce Data Set, used in the report, was collected before the height of the pandemic.
But Nuffield Trust researcher Nina Hemmings warned that early data from the Covid-19 outbreak ‘suggests pressure on staff has only intensified‘ since.
She continued: ‘Given the absolutely crucial role we have seen these workers play during Covid-19 they must be better supported in their health and wellbeing.’
Minister of state for care Helen Whately said the report ‘underlines the challenge for social care employers to recruit and retain staff – and the importance of investing in training and career opportunities’.
The Department of Health and Social Care has launched a ‘Join Social Care’ online recruitment tool and is working with the Department of Work and Pensions to promote adult social care careers to jobseekers, she added.