The healthcare industry faces a shortage of skilled workers, putting a strain on patient care. Care Quality Commission (CQC) forecasts show that an additional 1.22 million social care workers will be needed between 2016 and 2036. More conservative estimates are that a 31% increase in the social care workforce, equating to 500,000 jobs, would be required by 2030 to meet current demand. The CQC also estimates that around 11.5% of care homes do not have a registered manager in place.
With vacancies outnumbering available skilled healthcare professionals, roles attract a broader range of applicants, typically of a lower skill set. Care work is not something anyone can do – it takes a particular type of person. In many cases, people taking care of jobs quickly realise they aren’t cut out for it, creating high staff turnover and unplanned absences. CQC figures show that at 2016-17 the care workforce in England comprised 1.34 million jobs with a turnover rate of 27.8%. Turnover was exceptionally high for care workers (33.8%) and registered nurses (32.1%). In the same year, the proportion of vacancies in care was 6.6%, significantly above the UK average of between 2.5% and 2.7%.
Other key HR challenges include the amount of paperwork and administrative burden on care homes. Routine tasks that do not require a specialist skillset take longer to complete, putting additional strain on overworked healthcare employees and affecting the level of care they can provide.
Key factors drove the long-term staff shortage. Britain’s decision to leave the European Union significantly reduced the talent pool, and the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the availability of foreign nurses to take jobs in UK care homes. According to the CQC, there was a sharp decline in new EU nurse registrants following Brexit, from a high of 1,304 in July 2016 to just 46 in April 2017.
Furthermore, NHS bursaries for new nursing students were abolished in August 2017, leading to a 23% fall in applications by students in England to nursing and midwifery courses at British universities. This has led to further concerns about the future care home workforce, with funding cuts leading to a 44% drop in the number of full-time equivalent district nurses between 2010 and 2017. Despite this, there was a 6% drop in new nursing registrations in 2017/18 coupled with a 21% rise in de-registrations.
Since the outbreak of COVID-19, safeguarding employees’ mental health has overtaken the skills shortage as the biggest challenge for HR leaders in health and social care. In a recent study by cloud-based HR and payroll software provider Moonworkers, which surveyed 158 senior HR professionals, 54% of the respondents reported employee mental health support as the biggest challenge, followed by staff development (41%), shortage of labour (39%), lack of skilled talent (37%), and increasing paperwork (33%).
To overcome these challenges, almost half (46%) of those surveyed invest more in staff training and development, with 36% investing in technology and 37% reorganising shift patterns in the wake of the crisis. In addition, 61% of respondents reported that investing in staff training and development has had the most positive impact amongst employees.
The only way to operate any care organisation with minimal HR issues is to employ and reward the best staff members. Identify skilled healthcare professionals who are passionate about their work, know they’re in the right job, and care about residents and the business’s goals. To achieve this, organisations need careful recruitment practices, with a water-tight hiring and onboarding process to deliver only the best candidates. This requires investment in three core areas: HR, social outreach, and technology.