The government has recognised that pressure on the health and social care workforce has been ‘extremely high’ and has promised to work with health and care providers to ‘ensure a culture of staff health and wellbeing is embedded across all organisations’ and staff shortages are tackled.
Last year the parliamentary Health and Social Care Committee suggested that staff shortages were the biggest driver of burnout in the NHS in England and recommended a total overhaul of workforce planning practices in the health and care sectors.
In its response published today, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said it recognises that more needs to be done to support an “inclusive and compassionate” culture in the NHS and to ensure it is “well staffed”.
“Ongoing recruitment and workforce support will be central to continuing to manage the pandemic and supporting recovery in the NHS, as well as delivering the ambitions of the NHS Long Term Plan,” it added.
“We know that the pressures on the workforce have been extremely high and we recognised at an early stage [of the pandemic] the toll this may place on the mental health and wellbeing of health and care staff, prioritising the need for enhanced wellbeing and mental health support for all NHS and social care staff.”
The DHSC’s response said it will consider developing an NHS and social care migration policy framework to support local and national workforce planning. It will also explore whether to introduce a “people plan” for social care – similar to the plan that exists for the NHS.
It said it recognises that international staff are critical to the workforce in the short- and medium-term while domestic staffing supply is increased, and acknowledges the “lack of parity” between nurses and other professional groups under the current regime.
It wants local authorities to take an active role in the recruitment and retention of social care workers by “utilising their oversight of local systems, the labour market, future demand for care services, and trends and patterns in adult social care workforce”.
NHS staff wellbeing
“The UK government has also increased the range of roles that can be recruited to from overseas as part of the Health and Care Visa, through the expansion of the skill level in January 2021. However, we also recognise that under the new points-based immigration system, the majority of roles in adult social care are not eligible for a Health and Care Visa,” the document says.
“The Home Office has commissioned the Migration Advisory Committee to deliver an independent review of the effect of EU exit on the adult social care workforce, and we will be feeding into the scope of this review as appropriate.”
Today, social care workers have been added to the shortage occupation list, which will allow more migrant workers to fill vacancies in the sector.
Acknowledging how the pressures of the pandemic have affected staff mental health and wellbeing, it has invested more than £1m in specific wellbeing interventions for the adult social care workforce, building on those already in place at some organisations.
The wellbeing package for social care has included support helplines, wellbeing guidance and bereavement resources, as well as specific support for managers including webinars and a dedicated advice line.
“We have worked alongside the NHS and other organisations to provide a package of emotional, psychological and practical resources for the workforce and we are working with the sector to ensure that wellbeing resources and best practice advice are streamlined and easier to navigate,” it says.
The Health and Social Care Committee recommended that a survey similar to the NHS Staff Survey – which is one of the largest workforce surveys in the world – be introduced for the social care workforce to gauge overall wellbeing and mental health. However, the government response rejects this, stating that “the structure of the adult social care sector differs substantially from the NHS” and that many social care providers are small- to medium-sized organisations without the “sophisticated” HR functions able to coordinate staff surveys at a local level.
“Instead, we are committed both to increasing engagement with the workforce and to working with employers, sector representatives and local government to explore options for national or local surveys with the sector,” it says.
“As part of this work we hope to strengthen our understanding of staff wellbeing, including the impact of the pandemic, and will work with the sector to support action based on that understanding.”
It adds that the NHS staff survey was redesigned in 2021 align with the NHS ‘people promise’ which includes ensuring that staff are “safe and healthy”.
“A new set of questions has been included in the staff survey under the theme of ‘We are safe and healthy’ which specifically assesses burnout,” it says.
“Using the annual NHS Staff Survey as a way to measure progress on staff health and wellbeing will allow teams and departments, as well as whole organisations, to see their progress and take action to improve.”
Responding to the committee’s suggestion that the government replicates the “freedom to speak up guardians” model in social care, to ensure employees’ voices are heard and suggestions are acted upon, the DHSC says it has committed to piloting it in the sector.