health

Staffing at UK care homes 30% less than needed, survey finds


Care homes are missing a third of the staff they need and more than one in four have closed their doors to new admissions in a deepening labour crisis that is “putting safety and dignity at risk”.

With thousands of care workers off sick with Covid on top of a rising number of vacancies, the situation in social care has become “grim, difficult and relentless”, according to the National Care Forum (NCF), which ran a survey of its not-for-profit care-home members.

Omicron absences are running at 14% on top of an 18% vacancy rate – a sharp increase on estimates before the pandemic – as beleaguered care workers quit jobs, often for better paying roles in retail or warehouses. The picture is even worse for domiciliary care, with two-thirds of providers forced to decline families’ new requests for help because they are short of carers.

The executive director of the NCF, Vic Rayner, said the worsening situation showed the government’s approach to tackling the problem of staff shortages by giving social care “crumbs from the table” was negligent.

We “have been highlighting the growing shortages in the workforce and the knock-on impact on those who remain working in the sector and those who use care and support services for many months”, she said. “How many times does this message need to be repeated for it to be heard?”

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has provided councils with additional funds to pay bonuses to retain staff, and late last month it extended the visa programme for foreign workers to care workers, care assistants and home-care workers. Such measures, however, are yet to fill widening gaps in the workforce.

The figures came as MPs and peers were told that staff shortages in social care had worsened the lives of people who live in care homes and increased the risk of undernourishment and dehydration.

The director of the Relatives and Residents Association, Helen Wildbore, also told a hearing into restriction on care home visiting by parliament’s joint committee on human rights that “untold harm is being done to lives and to wellbeing”.

She said care residents “are being left behind while the rest of the country gets back to normal … if this is what the government meant by that protective ring then it is suffocating”.

She said staff shortages were “putting safety and dignity at risk”.

The director of Age UK, Caroline Abrahams, said short-staffing meant it was harder for residents to get fed and watered.

“It can make a huge difference to help people eat and drink and it can be very pleasurable, but you can’t do it if you’re a care provider and you haven’t got the staff,” she said.

The NCF’s snapshot of staff shortages was taken from care providers who together look after 130,000 people. It suggests official figures on staff absences may be underestimates. Live figures on Monday from internal health system capacity data seen by the Guardian showed 122 operators had declared a red alert on staffing, with 13,500 care workers off with Covid in England.

A DHSC spokesperson said: “Care staff are working incredibly hard, and to strengthen the workforce we have provided £462.5m for recruitment and retention, expanded the health and care visa scheme, and are running our Made with Care recruitment campaign.”



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