More than 600,000 social care staff needed to meet demand by 2031

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The Health Foundation has called for a fully-funded workforce plan after its research found that more than 600,000 extra social care staff would be needed to improve services and meet demand by the end of the decade.

The charity’s REAL Centre has published new research that highlights the growing workforce gap facing the social care sector and the NHS in England.

It found that by 2030/31, up to 627,000 extra social care staff would be needed to meet need – a 53% growth over the next decade and four times greater than the increases of the last ten years.

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Alongside this, an extra 488,000 healthcare staff would be needed to meet demand pressures and recover from the pandemic – the equivalent of a 40% increase in the workforce, double the growth seen in the last decade.

Anita Charlesworth, director of Research and REAL Centre, said: “If the government doesn’t take action now to invest in the workforce the NHS and social care system are likely to face a decade of increasing staff shortages. 5.6 million people are already waiting for care and the health service desperately needs more staff.

“Workforce shortages are the biggest risk to post pandemic recovery. Despite the more immediate challenges posed by COVID-19, the government must not lose sight of the underlying demand and cost pressures facing the NHS and social care over the long term and the need to plan better to increase the workforce to meet this demand.”

The Health Foundation said a major boost in the workforce would require significantly more funding over the next 10 years.

In social care, the next decade will need to see funding rise more quickly than the NHS, sharply reversing a trend over the last decade where NHS spending increased by 20% and social care spending didn’t grow, the charity explained.

The research also highlighted that the scale of the workforce challenge means action from government is needed on several fronts, including investment in training and recruitment, both domestically and internationally.

“It also means ensuring that staff salaries, terms and conditions are competitive compared to other work, and that flexible working, progression and career opportunities are all available to encourage new people to join the profession and existing workers to stay,” the charity said.

Charlesworth commented: “The money needed to meet pressures in health and social care will need to rise significantly beyond the current settlement, and at an even faster rate in social care. This means the government faces a major balancing act of priorities in the coming decade.

“In the forthcoming spending review it is vital that the government’s recent commitment to put money into day-to-day NHS care is matched with investment to train the health and care staff needed. A comprehensive fully funded workforce plan should be the top priority for government. Without it our health and social care service will be unable to keep up with demand, and care will fall well short of standards in other Western European nations.”

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Sarah Clarke

The author Sarah Clarke