What does that say about the times we are living in and the ongoing crisis in the care we, as a country, provide to our oldest and most vulnerable people?
Care providers across the country are facing the worst staffing crisis any of us has known in more than 30 years and looking at all measures to cover shifts, particularly as winter approaches.
Of course, we have been warning for years that the situation was getting critical. But if you had asked me even as recently as a few months ago whether I would need to consider recruiting a task force of family volunteers, I would have laughed.
It’s no laughing matter now.
But like all providers, I have to have a plan for all eventualities. With each day that passes, we get more and more grim news about the situation in social care. This week we heard that a homecare provider on the Isle of Wight had not had the staff to cover its home visits and had had to go to its local authority and hand them back the contract.
Earlier this year we had a homecare provider in York go out of business, causing a similar local crisis. And these will be just the tip of the iceberg, as homecare providers struggle to cover their shifts because they no longer have the staff to do so. The situation is the same in residential settings, as care and nursing homes battle to bring in enough staff to provide care. They are closing across the country too.
The sector is facing yet another perfect storm. After the rigours of Covid-19, demand for care is rising again, just at a time when a shortage of staff is limiting the care that can be provided.
Before Covid-19, Skills for Care estimated that there were 120,000 vacancies in the social care sector. That figure will be much higher now. We know, for example, that there are at least 1,000 vacancies across North Yorkshire.
This week the Department for Health and Social Care itself said that up to 40,000 social care staff were likely to leave the sector because they did not want to have the Covid-19 vaccine. I understand the importance of getting protected against the virus, but that legislation is going to make a bad situation even worse.
Many staff left the sector during the pandemic, finding other, less stressful, work elsewhere. The end of freedom of movement after Brexit has also cut off a valuable source of recruitment for the sector.
As Chair of the Independent Care Group (ICG), I have called on the Government to reconvene and set up an urgent national task force of volunteers – retired carers or nurses, for example – to step in as the staffing crisis deepens and particularly as we approach winter. We also need the Government to pump more funding into the sector urgently.
As ever, those pleas seem to be falling upon deaf ears. The Government showed that it can interrupt its summer break for urgent issues, by gathering to debate the dreadful situation in Afghanistan. But so far it is reluctant to make a similar effort to help the 1.5 million who currently can’t get the care they need.
I have written to Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid and his predecessor Matt Hancock on numerous occasions over the pressures facing the sector, but have yet to receive a reply. It doesn’t seem a lot to ask, just to have an acknowledgement of my missives, but so far, silence.
Again, all of us are left scratching our heads as to what we have to do to make this administration sit up and listen to the plight of social care. Just as we have with previous governments, of all political colour, who have presided over more than £6bn worth of social care cuts since 2010.
We have warned for long enough that failing to tackle the ongoing crisis in social care will have a detrimental effect on NHS care services, as the two rely upon each other to work.
Do we have to wait and see if a total collapse of social care takes NHS care services with it?
In the meantime, I am having to go cap in hand to my relatives asking if they will come in and help if we can no longer cover the shifts at our nursing and care homes by other means.
What a ridiculous state of affairs. And one that could have been avoided if heed had been taken of the warnings in previous years.
It isn’t too late.
The Government can still step in and help. But there are no signs yet.
As a country, we failed to mend the cracks in social care whilst the sun was shining. Now that the clouds of winter are starting to gather the foundations are crumbling and we are wondering just how bad the collapse is going to be.
Mike Padgham is chair of the North Yorkshire-based Independent Care Group.
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