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The government will be left to deal with a “tsunami of unmet need” chiefly as a result of a shortage of care home staff, a devastating report by the care regulator has warned.
The Care Quality Commission (CQC) has released its annual assessment of the state of health and social care in England, which lays bare the threats Covid-19 has caused to an already struggling sector.
In its bleak assessment, the CQC said the care system had “not collapsed” in the pandemic, but the toll on everyone working within it had been “heavy”.
The watchdog warned the workforce was “drained” as the country heads into winter, which had the potential to “impact on the quality of care” they deliver.
It comes as more than 50,000 Covid cases have been recorded in the UK for the first time since July and Boris Johnson faces increasing calls for more restrictions.
The report stressed staffing pressures across the sector, with the problem “most acute” in adult social care because of the competition with tourism, retail and hospitality industries, which can offer better pay.
In care homes, one in 10 staff will not be in their job in a year’s time, it said. The CQC is concerned that this will only increase as rival 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 some care homes struggling to recruit have had to cancel their registration to provide nursing care, leaving residents looking for new homes.
While the government’s £5.4 billion one-off investment to deal with Covid-19 was welcome, the CQC said the money cannot “just to prop up” existing approaches.
The CQC’s assessment covers the past year and is their first report to cover a full year of the Covid pandemic.
The report also warned of falling occupancy rates and profits at care homes, which could undermine local care if they were to go out of business.
The CQC also noted growing concern about the safety of care homes and restrictions placed on visits, which may have led to families choosing not to send their loved one into a facility.
The government’s major policy to fix the system is a £12 billion healthcare levy raised by introducing a 1.25 percentage point increase in national insurance from April 2022.
Ian Trenholm, chief executive of CQC, warned that the health and care workforce was “exhausted and depleted”.
He said they were “particularly concerned” about staffing in adult social care and they had seen “quality suffering due to lack of staff”.
Trenholm said if new government funding was to have an impact, it needs to be used to “do things differently” and develop collaborative ways of working across all care settings.
“Increased stability on funding and a clear workforce plan for social care benefits everyone – but further instability could result in a ripple effect across the wider health and care system which risks becoming a tsunami of unmet need across all sectors, with increasing numbers of people unable to access care,” he said.
Liz Kendall, Labour’s shadow minister for social care, called on ministers to take “urgent action” and added: “This devastating report provides yet more evidence of the overwhelming pressures facing social care and the need for ministers to take urgent action.”
David Fothergill, chairman of the Local Government Association’s community wellbeing board, said: “As this important report states, our care staff are depleted in number, leaving those remaining exhausted and working at maximum capacity.
“Losing them to other roles elsewhere will just compound problems for already overstretched services, which is likely to lead to even greater levels of unmet need.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We appreciate the dedication and tireless work of health and social care staff throughout the pandemic.
“We have provided record levels of investment to support them and will provide £36 billion over the next three years for health and social care across the UK.
“Thanks to a collective national effort we avoided NHS services becoming overwhelmed and are supporting social care with vaccines, testing, infection control, PPE and additional funding such as the £162.5 million to boost the workforce.
“We are working on health and social care reform to ensure we can provide world leading services and are committed to learning lessons from the pandemic with a full public inquiry in the spring.”