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Care Home Staffing

Volume 835: debated on Thursday 18 January 2024


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government how they are planning to address current staffing levels in care homes, and any connected delayed discharges from hospital wards and the impact on NHS waiting times.

We estimate that the number of adult social care filled posts increased by 70,000 in the last 18 months. The Government remain committed to the 10-year vision to put people at the heart of care, making up to £8.1 billion available over two years to strengthen adult social care provision and discharge. Funding is enabling local authorities to buy more care packages, help people leave hospital on time, improve workforce capacity and reduce waiting times.

I thank the Minister for that reply, but I am not sure that I find it very reassuring. Your Lordships’ House will know that delayed discharges and long waiting times are largely the result of shortcomings in the care sector, especially the shortage of staff in care homes, where international recruitment has been a lifeline. It was therefore a surprise when the Government elected to put further pressure on this sector by increasing the minimum annual salary required for employees applying for a visa, banning them from bringing dependants to the UK and requiring care firms to be regulated by the CQC if they are to sponsor these visas. Far from being broadly relaxed about these proposals, as the Secretary of State for Health claimed, the care sector is most alarmed about how this will affect recruitment, especially as no consultation at all took place before the policy was announced. Will the Minister please further explain to the House how the Government intend to ensure that there are enough staff in the care sector to cover the enormous and growing need?

The whole point of the title People at the Heart of Care is the recognition that staffing is critical to this. While it is early days, I believe the 70,000 increase in staff over the last 18 months, as I mentioned in my Answer, is a positive step. We had a very positive announcement just last week about the care pathway, setting out a career structure, which has been welcomed. For instance, ADASS, the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, said that these are

“positive steps to help make adult social care a real career choice now and in the future”.

We really are making advances in this space.

My Lords, as the Minister has likely anticipated, 2024 is going to be a year when we keep hassling him for a long-term workforce plan for social care. Assuming he is not going to announce the imminent publication of one, can I at least ask him to commit to commissioning and publishing an independent report into the potential impact of the visa changes described by the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley? The Government are of course entitled to make it harder to get visas, but they should be upfront and transparent about the downstream effects.

The Home Office has made an impact assessment of that. It thinks it will impact about 20,000 staff; we recruited about 100,000 last year. The main thing is that, by making sure that only CQC-registered bodies are able to recruit in this way, we are trying to make sure it is done in the correct, ethical manner by high-quality providers, which I think we would all agree is the right approach.

I welcome the additional care staff that my noble friend mentioned, but there are some real pressures in rural areas where people cannot get carers to come and work. Can he say what is being done about that? Also, because he mentioned it previously, can he give an indication of whether there is a greater number of community hospitals that patients could be discharged into?

I thank my noble friend for the question. The whole point of trying to develop the career structure that we talk about is to make sure that it is a career that people want to go into across the board, be it in urban or rural areas. Part of that is putting in place about 100,000 training places—this is the first place in the world that has been set up—to try to set up a real career structure. We are starting to see early signs of it working. The number of beds blocked has decreased by 10% in the last few months. It is early days, but it is beginning to work.

My Lords, does the Minister not agree that, while the increase of 70,000 people is very welcome, it is in the context of a turnover of nearly 400,000 every year in care because of the poor career structure? I understand and appreciate that £70 million has been put into training and a care workforce pathway, but does he not agree that it is profoundly inadequate compared with the £11 million a day that is put into NHS nurse training?

The 70,000 increase is a net increase, so it takes into account the turnover of staff, many of whom rejoin somewhere else in a social care setting. Notwithstanding that, I agree with the noble Baroness that a turnover rate of around 28% is too high in any sector. For about 20% of employers the turnover is only 10%, so clearly some know how to develop a career structure and have motivated staff who will stay there. The intention behind the programme and the career pathway we are trying to set up is to try to get more of that across the system, because retention is key.

My Lords, the Minister told the House on Tuesday that hospital discharges have recently been reduced by 10%. However, he knows that this figure goes up and down as some people leave hospital while more come in at the other end, and it depends on which period of time is measured. From July to November last year there was in fact a steady rise, so we need to be specific about dates when we talk about making progress. On the care settings that patients are being discharged to—care homes—how are the Government keeping track of how the extra funding allocated to deal with chronic local staff shortages has supported the discharge process? Will it continue in the longer term?

The noble Baroness is correct that the numbers are a result of flow. We are seeing thousands more people hospitalised through A&E, so the fact that we have managed to reduce the back end indicates a positive way forward. To measure precisely what the noble Baroness asked about, we have now set up a kind of flight control system for each integrated care board, as I have mentioned, which looks at data across the system to monitor the number of hospital beds and places needed on a case-by-case basis. The noble Baroness is absolutely correct that having that data is key.

My Lords, my noble friend the Minister mentioned the importance of a career structure to encourage people to work in the care sector. On the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, about visas for carers, one issue that has not been addressed is that of personal carers. It is very difficult to sponsor or get a personal carer for individuals, and therefore there is a massive shortage. Can my noble friend the Minister say what the Government are doing to make sure that we can have more personal carers, whether from a domestic workforce or through immigration?

My noble friend is correct that the recruitment of personal carers is harder. I know that this is close to his heart. I can probably serve him best by giving him a written reply setting out the details of what we are doing.

My Lords, to make this an attractive job for a care worker, we have to not only give them a pay rise above the national living wage, which is their basic pay, but make this into a profession. If they are professionals, they will then have a career structure that is recognised nationally. Will the Minister encourage that development?

Yes, I totally agree. That is why we announced this career pathway last week, to try to do exactly what the noble Lord is talking about. It has been welcomed; I quoted from ADASS, but a number of other bodies have welcomed what we are trying to do. We aim to do what the noble Lord said: to make it a profession that people really want to join. There are qualifications for it, advancement and apprenticeships, which are all part of setting up a career structure.

Does my noble friend the Minister not agree with me that there is still massive potential with the 500 or so community hospitals we have in the United Kingdom? Many are extremely well supported by their local community, and many still retain beds.

Yes. I have seen a number of really good examples of the kind of step-down care that my noble friend is talking about, or intermediate care that can be used as interim measures. We are trying to bring more of them on board, as well as the very good virtual wards. We have set up 11,000 virtual wards, and they are making a difference as well.

My Lords, the Government say that they have done an assessment on the effects of the visa changes. Can he tell us how that was done if the Government did not discuss it or consult with the sector?

It was a Home Office impact assessment, so I freely admit that I do not know exactly who was consulted; I will happily get back to the noble Lord on that. I know that the assessment looked at all the different parts, including the salary cap and the impact on dependants. For instance, it was not thought that the restriction would have much impact on dependants because not many people come with dependants in the care sector. It looked into each bit, but I will happily let the noble Lord know more in writing.