Home care providers are refusing to take on hospital patients ready for discharge and those who need help in the community because they do not have enough staff.
More than 200 managers told The Institute of Health and Social Care Management (IHSCM) they have had to turn down requests for care in the last month because of insufficient staffing levels.
Many others are handing back care packages as they struggle to recruit, the PA news agency understands.
One manager said their provider is refusing packages every day and is not adding people to its waiting list until January 2022 at the earliest.
Another said they are refusing between 15 and 20 care packages a week, calling the situation “heartbreaking”.
Home care agencies provide a range of care and support in people’s homes.
This can include for people who need temporary support after being discharged from hospital, older and disabled people who need help to live independently, those who wish to die at home, and to provide respite for family carers.
Joanna Mitchell, director of Your Care, which provides mainly palliative care, said she had to turn down around 30 care packages one morning this week.
She takes referrals from NHS community nurses and hospitals to help people live their final days at home, and said she is aware of one person locally who has been waiting more than six weeks.
The 55-year-old said the Kent-based company has been understaffed for three months, calling the workload “phenomenal”, and she has spent £2,000 on recruitment this month alone but cannot get suitable candidates to interview.
She told PA: “It’s heartbreaking, because families are left to struggle on their own in what’s already a really emotional environment, you know their loved one is dying, and we just can’t get to them quick enough, if at all. It’s really sad.”
Another manager said: “Six months ago we were turning down recruitment inquiries as we didn’t have enough work to offer a contract.
“Now I am turning down packages daily from Clinical Commissioning Group, local authority and private, realistically to at least mid-September, maybe longer if I don’t get any new staff on training in next two weeks. Recruitment is dire.”
The UK Home Care Association (UKHCA) told PA that there is a national shortage of home care, with hospital patients being put into care homes unnecessarily.
Dr Jane Townson, UKHCA chief executive, said care worker shortages are “the worst that anyone can remember”.
She said demand has risen, but capacity has fallen as a result of staff “leaving in droves”, leaving councils struggling to find care placements and hospitals worried about delayed discharges.
She said: “I think providers and care workers feel forgotten, as though they’re just dispensable, and that they don’t really matter.
“But I can tell you, it’s really going to matter, because what’s going to happen?
“We’ve got one of the lowest numbers of beds per population of any country in Europe, does the Government think that the NHS is going to look after all of these older people at home, that should be at home but can’t be because there’s no support, are they going to put them all up in NHS hospitals, is that what’s going to happen?
“And then that means that loads of people that need surgery and other things won’t be able to get a bed.”
The Outstanding Manager Network, which represents about 5,700 managers of UK social care services, has told the care regulator that pressure on staff is “now untenable”.
Its letter to the Care Quality Commission reads: “Many care managers are experiencing extreme anxiety about inspection and monitoring, and many don’t feel they can be honest about staffing levels as they fear recriminations instead of support.”
A Government consultation on extending the mandatory coronavirus vaccination requirement to more social care and healthcare workers is expected shortly.
The Government said in June that care home staff must be vaccinated against Covid-19 if they are to continue working from November 11.
Providers have warned that the requirement is worsening an existing workforce crisis.
Dr Townson said: “We don’t believe that compelling care workers to be vaccinated is going to encourage them to be vaccinated.
“All it will do is cause probably about 20% of them to leave, either to resign or to be dismissed, and the dismissals will all happen pretty much at the same time as well.
“And so our worry is that, right now, the care worker shortages are the worst that anyone can remember, and we’re then going to add on top of that a further loss to the sector of people that, for whatever reason at the moment, don’t want to be vaccinated.”
Warning of the impact on BBC Woman’s Hour earlier this week, she said that this could leave people “without being able to get out of bed, without being able to have clean clothes, without having food”.
Rachel Harrison, GMB national officer, said the Government must stop “kicking care plans into the long grass”, adding: “It’s no wonder care providers are chronically understaffed.
“This is a direct result of the appalling pay and conditions – often including zero hours contracts – our dedicated care workers are forced to endure.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “We appreciate the hard work and dedication of the social care workforce, providers and local authorities who are working together to deliver good quality adult social care throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, and beyond.
“We are working with local authorities and providers to ensure we have the right number of staff with the skills to deliver high quality care to meet increasing demands.
“This includes running regular national recruitment campaigns and providing councils with access to over £1 billion of additional funding for social care in 2021-22.”