More than 40,000 social care staff have left the sector over the last six months, analysis of Government figures shows, amid what a think tank is calling a “toxic mix of workforce challenges”.
The Nuffield Trust said there is a “deepening crisis” in social care staffing ahead of a very challenging winter.
The think tank analysed monthly experimental figures from the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) on the adult social care workforce in England.
It found that the number of staff reported by social care providers that submitted data fell from 1,584,535 in the week ending April 27 to 1,542,590 in the week ending October 26 – a fall of around 42,000 staff.
But it said this is likely to be an underestimate due to not all providers submitting data throughout the six-month period.
The group says the more likely fall over this period is an estimated 50,000-70,000 staff – which would equate to the workforce shrinking between 3% and 4%.
It says homecare providers could have been acutely affected, with a loss of almost 11,000 staff over the same period.
But, when adjusting for providers which did not submit data, this could be as high as 30,000.
The Nuffield Trust said this has been an “invisible problem”, and that without urgent action there could be “far-reaching consequences” on people’s health.
A “toxic” mix is thought to be to behind social care staff leaving the sector, including low morale, burnout, uncompetitive wages, a lack of career progression, existing understaffing and the impact of the mandatory vaccination requirement.
Providers are also facing competition from other sectors which can offer higher wages or Christmas sign-on bonuses.
The Government has launched a recruitment campaign as well as a £162.5 million fund to help providers recruit and retain staff over the coming months.
Separate analysis by the PA news agency shows that more than 5,000 care home staff have left the sector since the week ending November 7 – which was just days before the deadline for these staff to get double-jabbed.
Earlier this week the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services estimated that 1.5 million hours of home care were unable to be delivered between August and October this year due to lack of staff.
And MPs heard on Monday about the pressure staffing issues is heaping on unpaid carers, with one woman looking after her husband having not left her home since June.
The Nuffield Trust estimates that 110,000 people could lose out on home care, based on the Government’s estimates that 35,000 social care workers could leave due to the wider mandatory vaccination requirement that comes in next April.
Nuffield Trust deputy director of policy, Natasha Curry, said there is uncertainty due to data gaps but that its analysis “paints a bleak picture of a deepening crisis”.
She said: “Unless further and immediate action is taken, it’s likely we will see even more care staff leave the sector this winter at the worst possible time.
“While there has been much attention over winter pressures in hospitals, and even to some degree care homes, a shortage of staff providing care within people’s own homes has been an invisible problem.
“The home care system is at the point of breaking this winter. There will be far-reaching consequences for people and health and care services if no urgent action is taken.
“Unfortunately, more people will be unable to access the care they need, more pressure will land on unpaid carers, and problems getting people into appropriate care settings when they come out of hospital will be exacerbated.”
Dr Jane Townson, chief executive of the Homecare Association, said the staff shortage risked endangering the lives of people dependent on social care, adding the exodus was “hardly surprising”.
She said: “Shortage of careworkers risks harm to older and disabled people. It is also very stressful for careworkers, who may feel they are unable to meet needs adequately as they are so stretched, when their motivation is to improve lives.
“During Covid-19, homecare workers continued to visit people in their own homes every day, whilst GPs, district nurses, social workers, housing managers and CQC inspectors worked remotely.
“Our workforce feels exhausted and undervalued. It’s easy to find better paid jobs in hospitality and retail that don’t require vaccination, so it’s hardly surprising careworkers are leaving in droves.”