Lancaster University: The NHS and social care face the greatest workforce crisis in their history, say MPs

Expert evidence from Lancaster University has been included in a new report published by the House of Commons this week, which examines workforce issues plaguing the NHS and social care sectors.

Dr Carolyn Downs, a Senior Lecturer from Lancaster University Management School, submitted evidence to the House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee earlier this year, based on her many years of research into the social care sector across Europe.

Dr Downs is currently lead investigator for the LAPIS (Learning for Adult Social Care Practice Innovations and Skills) – an EU-funded project designed to explore the challenges and opportunities faced by the adult social care sector across the UK and Europe, which aims to share best practice and innovations. She previously led the research project Helpcare, which worked with almost 700 care workers to explore issues surrounding recruitment and retention in the sector, identifying a host of training shortfalls.

Her written evidence is cited throughout the new report, and stresses that more needs to be done to attract and retain workers within the social care sector, as currently workers experience low status, poor pay, lack of training, low morale and high levels of stress in the workplace.

Writing at the time of her submission, Dr Downs said: “The care sector urgently needs a mandated, validated, and comprehensive programme of staff training and development covering practice, administration, and soft skills. Such a programme does not currently exist…”

Dr Downs offered the Committee a number of recommendations to address workforce issues based upon her research. These mainly focused on training and development needs, including the implementation of a clear curriculum and series of qualifications which could professionalise the care sector and help to change perceptions of jobs in care.

Dr Downs said: “The report shows the urgent need for high-level policy changes to stem the current crisis in recruitment and retention of care workers. The social care crisis is preventing timely discharge from hospitals, leaving vulnerable people unable to obtain care and is driving the closure of otherwise viable small businesses who are unable to recruit sufficient staff to operate safely.”

The report offers a total of 73 recommendations to Government.

Health and Social Care Committee Chair, Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt, said: “Persistent understaffing in the NHS poses a serious risk to staff and patient safety, a situation compounded by the absence of a long-term plan by the government to tackle it.

“We now face the greatest workforce crisis in history in the NHS and in social care with still no idea of the number of additional doctors, nurses and other professionals we actually need. NHS professionals know there is no silver bullet to solve this problem but we should at least be giving them comfort that a plan is in place. This must be a top priority for the new Prime Minister.”