Health and Social Care Reforms 'Fail to Address Staffing Shortages'

Peter Russell

November 24, 2021

Almost a third of care workers reported that staffing levels were dangerously low, deteriorating, and harming standards of patient care, according to a survey.

The poll by the public service union UNISON suggested that more than two-thirds of staff were thinking of leaving the sector because of low pay and morale.

It came as MPs rejected an amendment to the Health and Care Bill by 61 votes that would have obliged the Government to regularly publish an assessment of health and social care workforce numbers in England.

Workforce Planning

The clause, proposed by Jeremy Hunt, chair of the cross-party Commons Health and Social Care Committee, would also have forced the Health Secretary to explain to parliament how workforce numbers would meet the population's health and care needs for the next 5, 10, and 20 years.

Mr Hunt, who previously held the Health Secretary post, told MPs yesterday that the amendment had the backing of 50 NHS organisations, including every Royal College. "Every month that we delay putting in place this structure is a month when we are failing to give hope to NHS staff on the frontline," he said.

NHS Providers said that Trust leaders would be disappointed that MPs voted down the clause that would have provided a "robust system" for long-term workforce planning.

Chris Hopson, NHS Providers CEO, said: "The NHS has 93,000 staff vacancies and is spending £6 billion a year on temporary staff to cover those vacancies. We are asking the impossible of our workforce with large numbers of staff having to regularly work extra unpaid hours and increasing numbers reporting illness due to work related stress."

"This is putting patient safety increasingly at risk and quality of care under pressure. Too many staff are saying they want to leave the NHS because they can no longer look after patients in the way they need to."

He said they hoped to persuade the House of Lords to "take the decisive action we need" when the upper House considered the Government's Bill.

The British Medical Association (BMA) accused the Government of having "squandered" an opportunity to achieve safe staffing levels in the NHS, including its own estimate of a shortfall of 50,000 doctors.

"The NHS is under unprecedented pressure, with record-high waiting lists, and staff exhausted from giving their all during the greatest health emergency of our lifetimes as patients continue to suffer significant harm due to understaffing," said Dr David Wrigley, BMA council deputy chair.

Care Sector Staffing Shortages

According to UNISON, 97% of workers in the care sector said their employer was currently experiencing staffing shortages, with its poll showing that 31% of staff believed that staffing levels were dangerously low, getting worse, and harming standards of care.

The findings were based on responses from 1637 care workers in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland between October 13 and November 4. Just over half of those polled worked in care homes, with the rest providing support to people in their own homes or in supported living accommodation.

Of those thinking of leaving the sector, the top reasons given were:

  • Burnout, stress, mental health, and wellbeing (30%)

  • Better pay elsewhere or low pay (29%)

  • Compulsory COVID vaccination (14%)

  • Poor treatment by their employer (11%)

  • Overwork due to staffing shortages (10%)

Commenting on the findings, UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea said: "The care sector is desperately short of workers and can't wait months for the government to come up with a solution."

She added: "The dying aren't dying with dignity because there's not enough staff to sit with people in their final hours. Residents are being neglected, not having baths, meals are late, and staff are exhausted."

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