Another week, another staffing crisis in the care sector. It emerged recently that GP surgery closures have risen by 700% over five years, leaving half a million patients to find a new GP. Along with the news earlier in the year that the number of practising GPs has dropped for the first time in 50 years, it’s clear we’re looking at a healthcare sector crisis that is growing at an alarming rate.
The biggest issue facing UK healthcare is recruiting enough workers to satisfy the growing demand in the country. According to the ONS, in 2016, 18% of the UK population was aged 65 and over, with this figure predicted to rise to over 25% by 2036.
This represents a massive challenge to those involved in the care sector. A sustained recruitment drive is therefore needed to deal with the extra demand that will come with the ageing population. In particular, replacing the generation of care workers who will start to retire and require care themselves is imperative.
However, this recruitment drive has yet to see the light of day for most of the country. A Green Paper on long-term funding and staffing plans for OAP care was promised by Health Secretary Matt Hancock in Autumn 2017, but it has been repeatedly delayed, with the date of publication now at least five months away. Without it, the industry is unable to gauge the support it is going to get from the Government – and is therefore unable to adequately prepare for the long term.
For nursing alone, three major think tanks recently estimated that the staff gap could grow to 100,000 in the next decade unless action was taken quickly to recruit more staff. With the GP numbers dropping, there also needs to be an emphasis on attracting fresh talent to pursue careers as doctors since, if Brexit happens, the support provided by foreign care works will diminish significantly. Overall, we will need to train 250,000 nurses and doctors to adequately deal with this ever-increasing demand.
Despite the troubles currently being experienced, the Government’s attention has been fixated on the growing Brexit fallout. With the Prime Minister confirming her resignation, uncertainty over just who will be in power come the end of the year has increased, meaning long-term visions have been shelved, including the plans for recruiting and funding care.
Furthermore, Health Secretary Matt Hancock is a candidate to replace Theresa May, and while social care plans may be top of his agenda, can he really balance his current responsibilities while running for the most important job in Britain? In any case, regardless of who the Prime Minister is, we don’t know what they intend to do to tackle the care crisis.
Admittedly there have been some positive moves made by the Government, particularly through schemes like the “Every Day is Different” social care campaign. This aims to encourage more people to pursue a career in care by highlighting what care workers love about their role and celebrating outstanding acts of dedication. However, while these schemes are the right way forward, it seems like the political uncertainty clouding British politics will continue for the next six months.
The long-term vision that is so desperately needed for social care appears to at the back of politicians’ minds, while Brexit is being resolved and the next Prime Minister is chosen. But in reality, this is one of the most pressing issues facing the country today. The care sector will carry on providing support for the British population with the same level of dedication and passion as it has done throughout this crisis, but it needs support from the Government now more than ever. We just need to hope they will provide it soon.