This recent increase, which amounts to around 20,000 posts, followed a 4% decrease in the previous year, the first fall in filled posts on record. This means that the number of filled posts has not returned to levels seen before the major decline in 2021. According to a report from the organisation’s workforce intelligence team - The size and structure of the adult social care workforce in England –the number of vacant posts reduced by 7% to 152,000 in the most recent year, while the total number of posts increased to 1.79 million.
A large portion of the growth in filled positions is due to the sharp increase in international recruitment from 20,000 in 2021/22 to 70,000 in 2022/23. This is a direct result of changes to the UK’s visa system that added care workers to the shortage occupation list in February 2022.
The report also showed that the vacancy rate for adult social care services of 9.9% is high compared with other sectors. It said that the NHS in England had a vacancy rate of only 8% and all other sectors surveyed experienced rates between 2.2% and 5.4%, with the economy as a whole showing an average rate of 3.4%.
This suggests that adult social care services are under especially intense pressure in an already challenging economic climate, which is in part due to heavy competition from other sectors making recruitment more difficult.
Oonagh Smyth, chief executive of Skills for Care welcomed the recent NHS long-term workforce plan, but said the organisation’s data supported the case for a social care workforce plan that also considered social care staff terms and conditions. ‘This will help to make sure that we have enough people with the right skills in the right places to support people who draw on care and support now, and for future generations,’ she said.
Miriam Deakin, director of policy and strategy at NHS Providers, called for urgent investment in social care services to meet demand: ‘Social care is inextricably linked to the NHS. Its staff support people to stay independent in the community and help prevent the need for hospital care.’ She also warned against relying too much on international recruitment: ‘While the contribution of overseas workers is invaluable, the sector cannot rely on this in the long term. We desperately need better investment to recruit and retain UK staff to put the sector on a sustainable footing.’
Natasha Curry (pictured), the deputy director of policy for the Nuffield Trust, echoed these concerns: ‘There is no room for complacency given staffing numbers are still not even back to where they were before the pandemic.’ She added: ‘While it is welcome to see short-term gains, we urgently need to see proper investment in social care.’
Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, expressed some optimism about the recent improvements: ‘It is encouraging to see some signs of progress in terms of increasing the numbers of people working in social care.’ However, he joined the broader call for more investment: ‘Profound challenges remain and long-term action to support social care services and workers is still unfinished business for the government.’
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