Social care facing 'unprecedented crisis' over staff shortages, say officials

·3-min read

Social care for the elderly and vulnerable is facing an "unprecedented crisis" due to a lack of available staff, according to council officials in the Isle of Wight.

Care providers who are struggling to recruit say issues affecting staffing include low wages, the pandemic, Brexit-related workforce changes and summer holiday leave.

This is against a backdrop of an increasing number of adults who need support across the country.

The government has said it is working to "ensure we have the right number of staff to meet increasing demands" and will "soon be outlining reforms to the adult social care system".

Sky News has been to the Isle of Wight, which has its own unique problems with isolation, an ageing population and a transient workforce.

Staff availability has become so difficult, vulnerable people have been left without care - sometimes at the last minute.

Anne Gustar, 80, who lives on her own and is completely reliant on her three-times daily care visits, said: "I can't live without them. I was a carer for 30 years at the local hospital. I know what it's like."

A couple of weeks ago, her carer didn't show up.

"I just assumed he was coming back to put me to bed but it was getting dark, and I thought I'm going to crawl over there and then I thought oh well I can sleep in my chair," she added.

Twenty-four other vulnerable people were also left waiting for their evening care visits, before being told there weren't enough available staff to come and put them to bed.

The council's team stepped in to help ensure everyone was looked after - but it is an example of the pressures the sector is facing nationwide.

Dr Carol Tozer, director of adult social care and housing needs, told Sky News: "We've known for a long time there are major pressures, and this is happening now everywhere because of the national shortage of carers."

She said the care providers had exhausted all options.

Dr Tozer added: "We talk a lot about winter pressures, but here on the island, there's also key summer pressures because our economy relies on hospitality and the tourist business - if you can earn more doing that, that is what you will do when you are on national minimum or national living wage."

Care providers told Sky News that staffing is the "single biggest problem we face" and they don't believe government reform will go far enough.

COVID-19 means the care sector workforce is already hugely under strain.

Stephen Trowbridge, who runs a company providing care across the South West, said: "There is no work-life balance anymore in adult social care.

"Staff are on their knees and I think if it wasn't for the connection staff have with the individual customers, they'd find other jobs elsewhere which are paying a lot more money than we can afford to."

The NHS warned before the pandemic it was 100,000 staff short in the health and social care workforce.

The Directors of Adult Social Services group has told us: "We cannot go on like this.

"The government must urgently bring forward its long-promised proposals for reform and sustainable funding of adult social care and a proper workforce plan."

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: "The social care workforce, providers and local authorities have worked tirelessly throughout this pandemic to deliver good quality adult social care.

"The government is working with employers to ensure we have the right number of staff to meet increasing demands and this includes running national recruitment campaigns every year.

"To support social care providers through the pandemic we have provided local authorities with billions of pounds in funding.

"We will soon be outlining reforms to the adult social care system, with proposals being brought forward later this year."

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