Dump HS2 and invest in specialist care staff – why we can’t afford not to

From: Philip Bartey, Group Chief Executive, Autism Plus, Sheffield.

How can HS2 be justified when the country is facing economic crisis over coronavirus?

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THE measures adopted by the Government on coronavirus are welcome but fall far short of what is required. While Ministers are in the welcome process of recruiting and training more doctors and nurses, nothing has been done to address the underfunding crisis in social care and the desperate plight providers face in recruiting and retaining front line staff.

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NHS England is working with social care providers on the Transforming Care Programme to transition people with 
autism, and challenging behaviours, from long-term hospital provision and into community settings. My organisation is one of those included on the framework to do facilitate the transitions. The urgency to free up hospital beds for coronavirus patients has led to increased impetus to accelerate the transition of the above patients.

A generic photo of a young boy with autism.

Social care providers of specialist care must recruit and train staff in a wide range of neuro-diverse conditions. Our wonderful staff can well expect to be physically and verbally abused by those people charged to their care.

Their reward for undertaking such a skilled and highly pressurised job effective from April this year will be a derisory £8.72 per hour, and less for anyone under the age of 25. Yet the median salary currently in force for all other sectors is £12.50 per hour.

I urge the Government to put this right, to recognise the value and worth of our professional colleagues and as a first step to agree that providers will be properly funded in order that we can pay our front line staff at least the level of £12.50 per hour offered to other sectors. This is the reason underpinning why it is so difficult to recruit and retain staff when they can earn more filling shelves in supermarkets.

If we cannot fill the vacancies, then we will ultimately be unable to take patients from hospital at a time when we are in a national crisis placing the country on a “war footing” to quote our Prime Minister.

Boris Johnson confirmed the Government's backing of HS2 earlier this year.

As we await the anticipated peak rise in the number of people affected with this virus, has the time arrived to consider dumping our aspirations for massive infrastructure projects such as HS2?

The UK economy is under great strain and the cost of underpinning both the economy, and supporting our people, is staggering. Can we afford to support our economy, our people and massive infrastructure and devolution plans at the same time when the country is in crisis?