The social care staffing ‘crisis’ is being exacerbated by the requirement for workers to receive both Covid jabs, which comes into force in less than two weeks, leaders in the sector have warned.
Jane Brightman, chair at the Outstanding Managers Network, said the policy requiring social care staff in England to receive two Covid-19 vaccinations by 11 November is worsening recruitment issues – especially when potential hires are willing to receive both jabs but have not yet done so.
She explained: ‘It usually takes 12 weeks to get two jabs. It’s a real mess. We can’t afford to pay them to do nothing for 12 weeks. We can’t afford to take people on who aren’t double vaccinated.
‘Recruiting nurses is even harder than care workers because there’s a smaller pool of them. We’ve recently seen a lot of nurses leaving not just social care but leaving nursing altogether,’ she added.
This comes as the CQC warned last week that care homes have cancelled their registration to provide nursing care because attempts to recruit nurses have failed.
Professor Martin Green, chief executive of independent social care representative body Care England, said more services will have to de-register nursing care, close completely or restrict admissions unless the Government takes ‘immediate action’ on staffing.
‘Staff shortages, in particular recruiting specialist nurses are becoming a real challenge for the care sector. The social care workforce crisis is happening now, and we need immediate action,’ he said.
Social care nurse numbers have steadily fallen in the last decade. Skills for Care figures released last month show there are 34,000 nurses in social care, which is a 33% reduction since 2012/13.
Kirsty Cartin, a registered nurse and care home manager in Scotland, said the sector in Scotland is also struggling to attract care staff despite the country not opting to mandate Covid jabs.
Ms Cartin said her home has ‘no cover for holidays of sick leave’ without staff taking on multiple extra shifts or using bank nurses, who are not always available. She also worries about the ‘continuity of care’ for residents if her home relies too much on agency nurses.
‘The whole sector needs looked at if we can’t attract nurses to social care. We cannot rely on agency forever. I’m not sure what the answer is,’ she added.
To tackle the growing crisis, Liz Jones, policy director at not-for-profit membership organisation the National Care Forum, suggested the Government introduce a ‘visible’ target for social care nursing numbers – similar to its pledge for 50,000 more nurses for the NHS in England by 2024/25.
‘Social care is desperate for nurses to come into it, absolutely desperate,’ she explained. ‘But when the government talks about its target for nurse numbers, it never mentions social care. Yet we have a seen a decline in the number of nurses for a while.’
She added: ‘Our nurses in social care are critical. They play such an important role and have a huge amount of responsibility and autonomy. But it seems very hard to explain to others that nursing in social care is a valuable, rewarding professional role.’
This comes after Ms Jones and other social care voices called for all student nurses to receive social care placements at the Nursing in Practice roundtable last month. Roundtable attendees also said that social care must fix its ‘brand problem’.