The usage and cost of agency nurses and carers across social care services in England has increased “dramatically” over the past year, according to leaders in the sector who have once again called for action to address workforce shortages.
Care England, a representative body for independent providers of adult social care, has warned that vacancies within the sector have increased by 52% (55,000) over the last 12 months.
“The use of agency staff has been a bandage over more deep-routed recruitment and retention issues”
This has resulted in a “costly and increasingly unsustainable reliance on agency staff”, it said.
A survey carried out by Care England covered the impact of agency staff usage between April 2021 and May/June 2022 and its findings are a cause for concern.
It received 95 responses from providers which offer a range of services, such as residential, domiciliary and supported living settings to older people, those with long-term conditions, learning disabilities, autism and mental health needs. The survey ran between 16 May and 1 June 2022.
Findings saw 78% of respondents report that there had been a significantly higher and more frequent need for nurse and carer agency staff.
Meanwhile, 88% of providers said it had become more or significantly more challenging to book agency staff, with 74% of respondents claiming that they had to contact multiple agencies to source staff.
A further 86% said the costs of agency workers had also increased since April 2021.
Agency rates were significantly greater than employee hourly rates. For example, the body said agency nurses were given £27.56 an hour, versus £19.49 for employed nurses.
Analysis from Care England suggested there was a theme of “poor quality, less experienced and inappropriately trained staff”, while 73% of respondents said agency staff were “less reliable”.
In wake of the findings, Care England has called for government intervention to address what it has described as “the agency staff crisis” in the sector and to tackle wider workforce pressures.
Professor Martin Green, chief executive of Care England, said: “Vacancies in the sector have increased by 52% (55,000) over the last twelve months, necessitating a costly and increasingly unsustainable reliance on agency staff.
“The use of agency staff has been a bandage over more deep-routed recruitment and retention issues, which now, expectedly, are unravelling.”
He added: “The results of our recent survey demonstrate the severity of these issues, with the usage and cost of agency staff increasing dramatically over the last year.”
Professor Green warned that this was “not only affecting the quality and continuity of care but compounding pressures on the NHS”.
“Without central intervention, these issues will only worsen over the coming months,” he said.
He added: “There is a rich pool of individuals both internationally and domestically that have the potential to bolster the workforce and reduce reliance on agency staff.
“Agency is a short-term solution which has now snowballed into a long-term fix for adult social care providers. This is not sustainable.”
While he recognised “plans” from within government to help providers increase recruitment and retention, Professor Green said he remained “concerned about the lack of a joined-up, strategic approach” and felt that current measures in place were “wholly insufficient”.
Professor Green called for a “root and branch reform of how individuals enter and progress through roles within the sector” and for a fully funded 10-year workforce plan.
In response, a government spokesperson said the social care workforce was “valued, appreciated and supported”, and pointed towards its £500m support package to help further develop and support staff.
They added: “Most care workers are employed by private sector providers who set their pay and terms and conditions, independent of central government.”
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