NHS leaders are calling on the Government to immediately implement a national care worker minimum wage of £10.50 an hour.
They are warning that without an increase above the hourly wage seen across many other industries, including that paid to staff working in supermarkets and across retail, the social care sector in England would lose any remaining competitive edge and continue to haemorrhage staff.
The NHS Confederation, on behalf of healthcare leaders, has penned a letter to the Prime Minister, warning that their social care counterparts simply do not have “the financial headroom…to respond to the labour market pressures they are facing.”
At a time when many people are facing a spiralling cost-of-living crisis, and with numerous industries reporting problems filling vacancies, health leaders fear that their colleagues in social care have the impossible task of trying to shore up huge staff vacancies with their hands tied behind their backs.
They also warn of the real risk that the more competitive levels of pay offered by the NHS for similar roles could see an ever-widening gulf in remuneration between health and social care.
A decade ago, the average hourly wage for a care worker was 13p more than those working in the sales and retail sector, by last year that had plummeted and an inverse trend in wages saw social care workers paid around 21p less than those working in supermarkets.
England also lags behind other UK nations with both Scotland and Wales having already introduced minimum wages near or well above £10 an hour.
NHS leaders fear that the knock-on effect of a social care sector left with only skeleton staffing will further exacerbate waiting times in the health service and drive demand for NHS services ever higher.
A lack of social care provision and the staff needed to provide that care will create a perfect storm. At the back end, hospitals will be left with little alternative but to delay the discharge of patients and keep people in hospital longer than they need because of the lack of social care available to them when they leave.
Meanwhile, at the front-end people who need social rather than health care will be faced with no other option than to seek help from their GP or at A&E when their social needs cannot be met. Worse still, with a dearth of social care workers to help, their condition will deteriorate meaning they end up in need of health care.
While the Government has previously acknowledged that a workforce strategy for social care is required and has acted to place care workers on the shortage occupation list to support overseas recruitment, this has not been enough to stop social care staff leaving the service in their droves.
Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said:
“Healthcare leaders are sounding the alarm and sending a clear message to Government that unless social care workers are paid a national care worker minimum wage, there is at real risk of irreparable damage to the sector.
“We are seeing the impact of this heightened pressure across the NHS already, with far too many patients having to stay in hospital longer than they need to due to inadequate social care provision locally.
“We urgently need the Government to take decisive action to fully fund this minimum wage increase which should be distributed through local authorities, to ensure funding reaches the front line, does not impact self-funders’ cost of care, and alleviates these severe staffing challenges.
“Without this life jacket, 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.”