Making careers in health and social care more attractive can help boost staff numbers and reduce attrition rates
As the countdown to the next UK election begins, the King’s Fund has identified three priorities to improve public health.
The national action would be taken by the future government to fix the “NHS and social care” in the country.
The health policy think tank said it would prioritise “improving access to out-of-hospital care”, making “careers in health and social care” more attractive and tackling the biggest risk factors affecting people’s health.
It highlighted that workforce crisis is one of the biggest challenges faced by the National Health Service (NHS) and social care services in England while citing “years of poor planning and fragmented responsibilities” as the reason for widespread staff shortages.
As per the King’s Fund’s data, there were more than 125,000 vacancies across the NHS workforce in England in October 2023, not including primary care vacancies such as GPs, and 152,000 vacant posts in the adult social care workforce.
The figures suggest a staff shortage of nearly 9 per cent in the NHS and about 10 per cent in social care.
The workforce crisis has contributed to a drastic drop in public satisfaction with the NHS, which has reached its lowest level in 40 years, according to the most recent British Social Attitudes survey.
According to the survey, 55 per cent of people who said they were dissatisfied with the NHS cited “staff shortages” as a reason.
The healthcare workers are also not very satisfied with their job with the most recent NHS Staff Survey revealing that “32 per cent of staff often think about leaving their job, and less than half said their organisation is committed to helping them balance their work and home life.”
Further, high vacancy rates are adding to stress and pressures on the existing staff, which is leading increase in sickness absences and many leaving the profession.
Improving recruitment as well as retention of the staff the sector needs is essential “to enable services to better meet people’s needs and to provide a higher quality of care,” the King’s Fund said.
Hence, action is needed to “make working in health and social care a more attractive career” to solve this workforce crisis.
How to address the workforce crisis?
In June 2023, the government published its NHS Long Term Workforce Plan, emphasising boosting staff numbers by increasing training and education and improving efficiency through ambitious reform plans.
However, it lacks retention measures and thus fails to address high attrition rates across the NHS workforce, as stated by the health charity.
The King’s Fund members suggested that the government should work with the NHS and take more action to retain staff.
It urged the government to allocate funding for NHS staff mental health and well-being hubs which will help “prevent burnout and reduce the number of staff taking sick leave.”
Additionally, it underscored the need to make flexible working a priority for the NHS workforce and to improve management, administration and leadership in the health and care sector.
The think tank suggested that the government should also bring out a long-term adult social care workforce plan to “improve pay and conditions, such as guaranteed hours and more generous sick leave.”
The plan should be focussed on reducing the pay gap between social care and NHS staff who do similar roles, and providing better training and skills, it added.