The National Care Forum (NCF) – the leading association for not-for-profit social care and support organisations has responded to the publication of the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan.
Professor Vic Rayner OBE, CEO of the NCF said:
“Today’s delayed workforce plan publication bears no relation to the much-vaunted integrated workforce commission of 2021. In 2021, HEE was commissioned to review the long term strategic changes needed for the health and social care workforce to support patients and the population of the future. What has appeared is a plan that only talks to the needs of the NHS and has a glaring gap around professionals within adult social care and any non-clinical professional in health and social care. The irony of publication on the day before the first anniversary of the establishment of the Integrated Care Systems should not be ignored. It makes repeated reference to integration, recognising the importance of stabilising and improving adult social care in making this plan a success, but contains no plans for how the government would do this. This seems extremely short-sighted and is characteristic of an ongoing deprioritisation of social care, which has seen reforms delayed, scrapped and reduced in scope over the last few years.
“This document, as originally scoped, should be a tale of two workforces coming together as one, yet this plan risks putting yet more strategic and operational distance between the two. We should not forget that this year is also the 75th anniversary of social care and yet only the health workforce is getting both a plan and additional funding – funding that is nearly ten times greater than the current plans to address workforce reform across the whole 1.6 million strong care workforce.”
Adult social care is also facing intense pressures. There are currently 1.62m filled posts but 165,000 vacancies and an 11% vacancy rate. There are now 5 million unpaid carers and requests for care are expected to exceed 2 million in 2022/2023.
This pressure is underpinned by the failure of successive governments to bring forward a comprehensive workforce plan for social care or properly fund providers to improve workforce pay, terms and conditions. Important attempts to introduce reformed career and development structures risk failure because care and support providers are constrained in their ability as employers to offer more attractive pay, terms and conditions and maintain pay differentials which recognise and reward the attainment of additional skills, specialisms, and responsibilities, due to underfunding by the state.
More importantly, the government is missing the opportunity to unlock the full potential of adult social care. Social care contributes £51.5bn to the economy in England and proper investment in adult social care, as a key part of the nation’s infrastructure, would unlock jobs, growth and tackle health and socio-economic inequalities across the country. It would be one of the single-most powerful policy decisions a government could make to better the lives of people everywhere.
As a matter of urgency, the government must:
- Pay care workers at a rate according to their skills and competencies determined by an independent review body, aligned, at the very least, with NHS Agenda for Change Pay Bands.
- Develop a long-term workforce plan for adult social care which models future workforce requirements and seeks to diversify the types of roles available, as well as developing career structures and qualifications. This should be aligned with NHS workforce planning to enable a joined-up workforce and to enhance the quality of care provided by both the NHS and social care.
- Introduce professional registration for all adult social care workers and establish a professional body to represent them. This must be fully funded by the state.