NHS leaders across England warn that staffing shortages and insufficient social care capacity will continue to endanger patient care and safety.
Nearly 250 NHS leaders responding to a poll by the NHS Confederation said that patients are being kept in hospitals for much longer than necessary, resulting in increased pressure on A&E departments and lengthier ambulance response times.
NHS leaders support their colleagues in social care and are encouraging the government to expand investment in care services, especially by increasing care workers’ salaries.
They assert that failing to act will deprive an increasing number of vulnerable individuals of the care and assistance they require, as well as severely strain frontline NHS services.
The stark results of the poll of NHS providers, primary care and integrated care system leaders depict a social care system straining to meet demand and a compelling need for a long-term compensation and financing strategy for the industry.
Nine out of 10 leaders indicated that the strain caused by a lack of adequate and timely social care routes for individuals leaving hospital has the greatest impact on A&E, with nearly the same proportion (86 percent) stating that this has a significant influence on ambulance response times.
Almost three-quarters also report that a shortage of social care capacity impedes their attempts to reduce waiting lists.
Almost all of the over 250 NHS executives who replied to the poll agreed that the one immediate reform the government could make to relieve pressure on the social care system would be to boost social care employee compensation.
NHS chiefs recently urged the government to quickly impose a national minimum pay of £10.50 per hour for care workers.
Without a rise above the hourly rate seen in many other areas, including supermarkets, retail, and the NHS, the social care industry in England would continue to lose personnel, they said.
An acute trust executive director in the South West accused the Government of presiding over a “national scandal.”
“If the social care capacity shortfall was solved then we would not be holding ambulances at all, we would have almost no problems with elective recovery and our emergency departments would not be crowded and unsafe,” they said.
Commenting on the survey results Lord Victor Adebowale, chair of the NHS Confederation, said: “Decades of delay and inertia have left social care services chronically underfunded and in desperate need of more support.
“NHS leaders stand alongside their sister services in social care in wanting a rescue package for the sector. They are sounding the alarm and sending a clear message to Government that the social care system has not been ‘fixed’.
“This failure to invest in services and wages for care workers has led to huge vacancies and a lack of capacity.
“This is contributing to the big problems we are seeing in A&E departments, in terms of longer ambulance handover times, and when it comes to hospitals not being able to discharge medically fit patients when they are ready to go home or into a care home.
“We now urgently need the Government to take decisive action and commit to making it attractive to work in social care and increase the numbers of social care staff.
“The NHS and social care work side by side, when one service is struggling, the other suffers, and the pandemic has served to shine a stark light on how fragile and severely under-resourced the country’s social care system has become.
“Without immediate action, both the NHS and social care could face an endless winter of people being failed by the very systems that should be there to support them at their most vulnerable.”