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Large staff shortages predicted for NHS and social care

2 million more health & social care staff needed by 2022

Adrian O'Dowd

Friday, 29 May 2015

The NHS and social care are facing serious staffing shortages in the next few years with demand for staff not meeting availability, warns a report today by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES).

In its report Skills and performance challenges in the health and social care sector, the organisation says progression bottlenecks could limit the supply of skills in health and social care while demand for care roles grows.

The way that care is provided may also have to change, such as making more specialists available in GP practices, which will have to develop their services, it says.

The health and social care sector is the largest sector in the UK, employing nearly 4 million people.

For their research, the authors reviewed recent literature relating to the health and social care sector, analysed key national data sets, and carried out 53 in-depth, qualitative telephone interviews with employers and sector stakeholders.

The authors said that demand for workers in health and social care services would rise sharply in the years ahead and estimated the UK would need more than 2 million more people to be trained and recruited by 2022.

Of the 2.1 million workers estimated to be needed in the sector between 2012 and 2022, 1.4 million (67%) were needed to replace those leaving existing roles.

Despite this need, there was a poor prognosis for skills in health and social care, with employees finding limited opportunities to progress to higher level roles, and many younger workers leaving the sector as a result.

The NHS was seen as a key destination for staff leaving social care, said the authors, who called for dual route training opportunities and qualifications for new entrants to the sector, which would allow staff to pursue a health or social care career path.

Their research found a larger than average proportion of those working in the sector were aged between 50 to 64, which underlined the need for new talent as a large cohort of the existing workforce was due to retire in the years ahead.

Although many health and social care workers were highly skilled, they said, earnings for those in health and social care were 11% lower than the national average.

Interviewees had raised the issue of the need in the future to develop service delivery models to make specialists more accessible, including in GP practices.

In general, most interviewees agreed that “more multidisciplinary working” was likely and necessary.

An example was the likely growth in numbers of physiotherapists in the years to come, who were likely to diversify further than other health and social care professions, they said.

There was a potential role for experienced physiotherapists to work directly in GP practices or community clinics, potentially with the ability to refer patients on to specialist services and take on independent prescribing rights.

Vicki Belt, assistant director at UKCES said: “With medical advancements leading us to live longer, more active lives, the knock on effect is a sharp rise in the need for those who keep us in good health in our later years.

“These findings demonstrate the dramatic extent of this need – health and social care is already the largest sector in the UK, yet to meet the rising need for care we will need to see a 50% increase in the number of people working in these fields.”

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