Tinkering has not “got social care done” as Ministers ignore staffing crisis – Mike Padgham

IT gets harder and harder each year to think of a positive and uplifting end of year message to give to colleagues, fellow care providers and the public.

Mike Padgham (right) visits his 93-year-old mother Phyllis Padgham (centre) with Activities Assistant Charlotte Henderson (left) at St Cecilia's Nursing Home in Scarborough, North Yorkshire.
Mike Padgham (right) visits his 93-year-old mother Phyllis Padgham (centre) with Activities Assistant Charlotte Henderson (left) at St Cecilia's Nursing Home in Scarborough, North Yorkshire.

Looking back on 2021, what can I say? It was a nightmare! And looking forward to 2022? I’m sorry and I hope I’m wrong, but we might be in for more of the same.

As we head into 2022, the impact of the new Omicron Covid-19 variant is being felt more and more each day as it robs care providers of the staff they need to keep providing proper care.

Mike Padgham (right) visits his 93-year-old mother Phyllis Padgham (centre) with Activities Assistant Charlotte Henderson (left) at St Cecilia's Nursing Home in Scarborough, North Yorkshire.

More and more people have to self-isolate and the strain on shifts in nursing and care homes and in homecare agencies is becoming intolerable. There is little help coming from the Government.

Those carers are already battered and bruised after an exhausting year. They, and the doctors, nurses, GPs and emergency services who continue to bear the brunt of the pandemic, deserve our gratitude. The echo of Thursday evening clapping seems a distant memory, but their hard work, commitment and sacrifice are not diminished.

In the last year care settings lost residents and family members to Covid-19, and we lost care providers who just couldn’t go on against the hardships of Covid-19, the staffing crisis and the financial difficulties care is facing.

We will defeat the pandemic and rebuild social care only if we all work together. So, if I do have a message for 2022, it is that the Government must listen and work with us so that we can survive the pandemic and together rebuild a sector that is truly fit for purpose.

What will be the future of social care in 2022?

A sector where those going without the care they need start to get it and the amazing but undervalued staff delivering care get the recognition, pay and conditions they deserve.

But I don’t think the Government is listening. I wrote to Health Secretary Sajid Javid in August warning about the ongoing staff shortages. I have just had a reply – four months later – basically thanking me for my letter and setting out what the Government is doing for social care. No answer to the staff shortages.

In fairness, 2021 has seen some progress, a little extra funding and a cap on care costs that might help a few. But it is just tinkering at the edges and not the root and branch overhaul that the social care sector has been calling for during the past 30 years.

Nobody has been listening. And so 1.5 million people go without the care they need, providers close or struggle to survive and overwhelmed staff are pushed to their limit or leave the profession.

We recently had the absurd situation of people being discharged from hospital into hotels because there were no care packages available to look after them in their own homes. Ironically, they were then cared for by overseas workers in those hotels.

If you remember, the Government said that care providers could not recruit overseas staff following Brexit, which is contributing to the current acute shortage of care.

It has now belatedly relented on this after the Migration Advisory Committee recommended that social care providers should be able to recruit from overseas to alleviate chronic understaffing.

A good move, but one that is dreadfully late, too late to help the appalling staff shortages we had warned about due to the impact of Omicron.

They just didn’t listen. The Government’s own Market Sustainability and Fair Cost of Care Fund reported – surprise, surprise – that care providers were not being paid enough.

It said “a significant number of local authorities are paying residential and domiciliary care providers less than it costs to deliver the care received. This is undermining their markets, creating unfairness, affecting sustainability and, at times, leading to poorer quality outcomes.”

This is something we have said for 30 years! But nobody has listened. I wonder if the Government will listen and start to address the huge shortfall in funding – at least £8bn cut since 2010. Experts say an extra £10bn a year is needed.

There are worrying signs that, with the aforementioned tinkering, the Government thinks it has “got social care done”, which of course, it hasn’t.

We must hope for better. The vulnerable people we care for and the amazing people delivering that care deserve that hope as we step tentatively forward into the unknown of another challenging year.

Mike Padgham, from Scarborough, is chair of the Independent Care Group.

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