Care system faces 'tsunami of unmet needs' amid winter crisis, watchdog warns

22 October 2021, 07:35 | Updated: 22 October 2021, 07:50

The care sector is likely to struggle throughout winter, the CQC said.
The care sector is likely to struggle throughout winter, the CQC said. Picture: Alamy

By Emma Soteriou

The care system will face a "tsunami of unmet needs" in the upcoming winter months, a watchdog has warned.

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It comes as health and social care employees are experiencing tougher work conditions due to staff shortages during the pandemic.

Ian Trenholm, chief executive of the Care Quality Commission (CQC), said they were "exhausted and depleted", having to work under intense levels of pressure and with many services at or over capacity.

Recruitment and staff retention in adult social care is fast becoming a "serious and deteriorating" situation, the regulator warned.

However, Mr Trenholm said people could not be expected to work harder than they already were if services were to get safely through the winter.

Read more: Sajid Javid: Health and social care 'begins at home' not with government

Vacancy rates showed that, in a year's time, one in 10 care home staff would no longer be in the job, with the sector having to compete with others such as hospitality, tourism and retail.

There are concerns that competition will only increase as industries open up and offer incentives to speed up recruitment, while social care staff may also take up vacant nursing posts in hospitals, the CQC said.

It comes after the Government pledged £5.4 billion for the sector over the next three years.

Read more: 'Deep frustration' at social care tax hike as 'people abandon the Tories'

However, the regulator said that there was instead a need for immediate funding, so providers could "urgently increase capacity".

Mr Trenholm explained that the workforce needed better pay, training, conditions and stability and to see social care as somewhere that is an "exciting and vibrant" place to work as a long-term career choice.

Mounting pressure on the NHS could also be eased by increasing the stability of the social care, reducing emergency attendances in the first place as well as delayed discharges back into the community, the regulator said.

During a briefing to launch the CQC's annual State of Care report, Mr Trenholm said: "If nothing changes social care will continue to lose staff to other sectors, outside of health and social care.

"It'll lead to reduced capacity and choice and poorer quality of care.

"The impact of that will ripple right across the wider system, and those ripples will build and become a tsunami of unmet need across all sectors."

He said areas with high vacancy rates and low population densities are of particular concern, adding: "What we know is that people are leaving social care to go and work in hospitality and tourism.

"So areas like the South West are particularly hard hit, and are going to particularly struggle to resolve this particularly difficult problem."

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, also said social care was "at serious risk of a significant erosion".

"As this report shows, social care staff, including nurses, are leaving in their droves which presents a real risk to the continuation of services and creates worrying instability in the care market," he said.