On the 75th anniversaries of both the NHS and social care, NHS leaders are calling on the government to oversee a major programme of investment in social care services to support vulnerable people to get the care and support they need but also to reduce pressure on an increasingly over-heated NHS.
A new NHS Confederation survey of the public in England, Wales and Northern Ireland – conducted by Ipsos – identifies increasing capacity in social care as the single most important way of addressing the challenges the NHS is facing*. The second most popular ‘solution’ to the NHS’ challenges identified by the public is a comprehensive workforce plan for the number of staff working in the NHS. The prospects of closing the gap on the 112,000 vacancies in the English NHS moved a significant step closer on Friday following publication of NHS England’s workforce plan, which aims to boost recruitment and retention in the NHS over the next 15 years.
However, an equivalent plan for the social care workforce in England is not being developed and NHS leaders have also written to the Prime Minister urging the government to ensure that a similar exercise is now commissioned for the social care workforce, where the number of vacancies (160,000) is even higher than in the NHS. The letter sent following publication of NHS England’s workforce plan calls for a comparable strategy for social care in a bid to help to raise the status and value of careers in all social care services; transform staff experience, career development and productivity; increase investment in pay and conditions to both attract people to work in the sector and reduce turnover; and to better enable integration between social care and health.
The public’s recognition of social care as a priority for extra support comes out strongly in the NHS Confederation’s wide-ranging poll, which surveyed 1,555 people aged 16+ across England, Wales and Northern Ireland on issues such as their attitudes to funding and the founding principles of the NHS, access to care and their levels of satisfaction.
The headline findings are:
- There remains a high level of support for the founding principles of the NHS. A majority agree that the NHS should provide a comprehensive service available to all (87%), remain free at the point of delivery (also 87%) and be funded primarily via taxation (83%).
- When it comes to the NHS budget, 7 in 10 (69%) do not think that the NHS receives enough funding. Six in ten (61%) think the NHS needs a combination of more funding and big changes to the way in which it runs and provides services in order to improve.
- Reflecting the areas of most concern at present, the public want the NHS to prioritise increasing the number of staff working in the NHS (45%) and improving staff wellbeing (30%), alongside reducing waiting times for core services: 36% want the NHS to prioritise improving waiting times for A&E, 35% want to see improving waiting times for routine services such as diagnostic tests or operations and 32% making it easier to get face-to-face GP appointments.
- When presented with potential actions that the NHS could take to address the challenges it is facing, the actions the public think will most help are increasing capacity in social care settings so that people can leave hospital sooner and developing a workforce plan for the number and types of staff the NHS will need to deliver services in the future.
- With waiting lists rising, this has become a key concern for the public. The public attribute the elective care backlog to a mix of factors: a lack of staff (49%) and space in social care settings (43%), as well as the cancellation of routine treatment and care during the pandemic (42%), and there not being enough funding for the NHS (40%).
NHS Confederation chief executive Matthew Taylor said: “We’re on the eve of both the NHS 75th anniversaries, which is also the date when social care was set on a new statutory footing, but the danger is that while one service – the NHS – is celebrated and lauded, the other – social care continues to fail while politicians look the other way.
“NHS leaders – who work closely on the ground with their social care colleagues - and the public are growing increasingly concerned about the state of social care and the lack of investment and support it continues to receive. With over 160,000 vacancies and the lack of an equivalent workforce plan for social care that we at long last now have for the NHS, we believe urgent action is required to level-up in social care and give the sector the support it needs. This will not only ensure more people get the care and support they need, but also help to reduce pressure on the NHS. Our polling shows the public are becoming increasingly aware of the vital role social care plays and they want to see concerted action.
“This new polling also shows the enduring commitment that the public has to the NHS, despite all the operational challenges it faces. This support should not be taken for granted. The challenge before us now is to use the historic moment of the NHS turning 75 to unite behind a shared vision of the NHS’ next and best era. This must be centred on an NHS that is adequately and sustainably funded, an NHS that is taking care and prevention to people and their communities, an NHS that empowers and enables, and one that benefits from improving public health. It must also be based on an ambitious and honest partnership between the NHS and those it serves.”
We are the membership organisation that brings together, supports and speaks for the whole healthcare system in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The members we represent employ 1.5 million staff, care for more than 1 million patients a day and control £150 billion of public expenditure. We promote collaboration and partnership working as the key to improving population health, delivering high-quality care and reducing health inequalities.