Fears are growing that the NHS and the care home sector are facing a major staffing crisis as demand for services outstrips the capacity of organisations to provide services.
The arrival of mandatory vaccinations – a policy that may see thousands of workers leave the sector – is likely to be significant contributing factor to the crisis. About 50,000 care home staff who have not had two doses in England will not be allowed to work from today (11 November).
Professor Martin Green, CEO of Care England, said: “When government imposes a policy it needs to be accompanied by support and resources. Mandatory vaccination comes in the midst of a workforce crisis in the adult social care sector and it is clear that social care may not be in a position to support the NHS this winter.”
Responding to the latest performance figures for the NHS in England, Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: “The NHS is now facing unsustainable pressures and running so hot it has reached a tipping point.”
Staff shortages were putting patient safety at risk, he said, citing surveys and evidence from various healthcare leaders.
“Unless we take action now this pressure is going to get even worse in the deepest midwinter months and we would urge the government to everything it can to prevent the NHS from plunging further into crisis,” said Taylor.
He said action must be taken by the government over social care which urgently needed extra funding and support now to ensure patients could safely be discharged into the community, freeing up capacity in the NHS.
“We also need clarity from the centre on how an expanded NHS workforce will be funded in the longer-term in the hope that we are never again faced with a staffing crisis of this magnitude,” he added.
Chair of the National Care Association Nadra Ahmed warned that that the loss of care home staff because of the vaccination policy would affect NHS capacity. “The impact may not be immediately felt as providers have been responsible in their planning to mitigate any risk to those we care for. As the weeks go on, we will have to consider the impact of the loss of capacity in the sector as providers have to suspend any admissions from hospitals and the community due to the fact that they will not have enough staff to deliver the care.
We also need clarity from the centre on how an expanded NHS workforce will be funded in the longer-term in the hope that we are never again faced with a staffing crisis of this magnitude” – Matthew Taylor
“This will have a direct impact on the NHS as they will struggle to respond to people needing urgent care with no available beds. Ultimately, care providers will need to consider their viability as they operate at limited capacity, due to a lack of staff, and we will see home closures leaving vulnerable people in a challenging support environment.”
Jemima Johnstone, head of corporate immigration at Gherson Solicitors said that the care sector needed a visa policy akin to those used – albeit unsuccessfully so far – in the logistics and food production sectors, particularly as it could lose 50,000 staff who were not double jabbed by 11 November: “The care home sector has already been facing major staff shortages, and many in the sector are warning of it being on the ‘brink’. Making matters worse, Sajid Javid this week ordered that all NHS staff will need to be vaccinated by April. Our NHS and care sectors are dangerously close to collapse and without the staff, those in need will not be cared for appropriately.
“If the government can rush through temporary visas for HGV drivers from across Europe they can certainly do the same for the care sector,” said Johnstone. “Under the current immigration rules employers who need to recruit care workers are only able to only sponsor non-UK and Irish nationals as senior care workers – a role that meets the minimum deemed skill requirement for a Skilled Worker visa. This needs to be expanded to recruit staff of all levels.”
She added: “The immigration process can potentially be achieved in six weeks, if recruiting a European national, but that’s with a focused approach to applying and scrupulous attention to the requirements.”
Analysis by the Guardian newspaper suggests that on current staff/resident ratios and without other measures to tackle the care home staffing crisis, the care of about 30,000 people could be affected.