Increasing capacity in social care has been cited as the best way to help address challenges in the NHS, according to a poll of the British public.
Introducing a seven-day work week for all parts of the NHS and the development of a workforce plan were also suggested as key actions that would help.
The NHS Confederation-commissioned survey polled 1,555 members of the public across England, Wales and Northern Ireland towards the end of March and start of April on their perceptions, experiences and priorities in relation to the health service.
Those behind the survey said that while it found ‘enduring’ support for the NHS, the public’s recognition of social care as a priority for extra support also came out ‘strongly’ in the results.
When presented with potential actions the NHS could take to address the challenges it is facing, some 70% of respondents suggested increasing capacity in social care, such as having more places in care homes, so that people who need social care can leave hospital when appropriate.
The poll also showed that 52% of the public felt introducing a seven-day work week for all parts of the NHS would be a good solution to the challenges faced by the health service.
Meanwhile, more than half (54%) of respondents also said that developing a plan for the number of NHS staff and types of skills needed to deliver services in the future would help.
And as reported by Nursing in Practice, NHS England’s workforce plan was published last week – pledging to significantly increase the number of nurse training places in the country.
Pressure is now mounting on the government to provide a similar blueprint for social care, with the NHS Confederation sending a letter to the Prime Minister on June 30 calling for the creation of a social care workforce plan.
In the letter, health leaders welcomed the NHS long term plan but called on the government to ‘intervene to ensure that a similar exercise is now commissioned for this vital workforce’.
NHS Confederation chief executive, Matthew Taylor, said the public are ‘growing increasingly concerned about the state of social care and the lack of investment and support it continues to receive’.
Mr Taylor added that ‘with over 160,000 vacancies and the lack of an equivalent workforce plan for social care that we at long last now have for the NHS, we believe urgent action is required to level-up in social care and give the sector the support it needs’.
Chief executive of Care England, Professor Martin Green, said that while the social care sector has ‘historically stood as the poor relation to the NHS’ the Covid-19 pandemic ‘shone a light on the essential role of adult social care’.
Professor Green told Nursing in Practice that a poor perception of careers in social care, better opportunities elsewhere, and workforce pay were the biggest barriers to recruiting and retaining more staff in the sector.
‘The development of a long-term adult social care workforce plan, similar to that in place for the NHS, is long overdue,’ Professor Green added.
‘We recommend that, as a part of the pay framework, the government aligns benefits, terms and conditions for care staff with those in the NHS, including on pensions, statutory sick pay, holiday entitlements and access to training courses,’ he said.
Other findings from the poll suggested the majority of the public (61%) believe that the NHS does not receive enough funding and a further 81% said there are too few frontline staff working in the health service.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: ‘The workforce are at the centre of the ‘Next Steps to Put People at the Heart of Care’ plan which is backed by £250m for staff to develop new skills, get better training and have career development. This is part of an overall investment of £700m in adult social care reform.
‘We have also made up to £7.5bn available in additional funding to support adult social care and discharge over the next two years – helping local authorities address waiting lists, low fee rates, and workforce pressures.’