Care sector facing its worst ever staffing crisis, survey for ITV News finds

The carers who are having to put on a brave face despite facing the worst staffing crisis ever, ITV News UK Editor Paul Brand reports

The largest survey of home care providers ever conducted has found the sector is facing its worst staffing crisis in history, with thousands of vulnerable people going without care as a result.

Some 78% of providers who responded to the exclusive survey, carried out by ITV News in conjunction with the UK Homecare Association, said recruiting carers is the hardest it has ever been. Many describe being at "breaking point".

Due to the staffing crisis, 30% of the 843 providers surveyed said they are handing back some, or all, of their care to local authorities because they can no longer fulfill their contracts.

ITV News has seen lists of people who are waiting more than three months to have a provider assigned to them, ITV News UK Editor Paul Brand explains

Out of the respondents, 95% said they are unable to take on all the new clients in need of their help.

ITV News filmed with two providers in Somerset who are both experiencing the crisis.

At Candlelight Care in Glastonbury, Branch Registered Manager (Domiciliary Care) Tracy Weare broke down in tears as she explained how she was having to turn away new clients - some of whom have been waiting for up to 107 days for someone in Somerset to provide their care.

Manager Tracy Weare told ITV News it's "soul-destroying" turning away clients in need of help

She told ITV News UK Editor Paul Brand: “You’ve got somebody on the phone, somebody crying, because they’ve been told to source their own care and they’ve been ringing up providers trying to place a package.

“You’re probably the last one on their list - you’re that last glimmer of hope and then you have to turn around and say you can’t help. “It’s soul-destroying.” The Glastonbury Candlelight branch used to employ 100 carers, but staffing numbers are now down to 60. The company is doing everything it can to avoid existing clients going without care, but it cannot fill posts as quickly as they are being vacated.

While McDonald's has been running out of milkshakes and KFC has had chicken shortages due to a lack of hauliers, similar issues are contributing to the staffing crisis in care which means that vulnerable people are going without far more basic needs. Jane Townson, CEO of the UK Homecare Association, said long-term problems across the sector such as low pay and unsociable hours have been exacerbated by Brexit and the pandemic, leading to unprecedented pressure on staffing levels.

CEO of the UK Homecare Association, Jane Townson, said the pandemic has left staff "really exhausted"

Ms Townson said Covid has left staff “really exhausted”, while migration policy following Brexit and the potential introduction of vaccination as a condition of deployment are compounding issues.

She also cited the way home care is commissioned and purchased as a long-term concern, adding: “Many councils are still buying home care by the minute and that means employers have to pay workers by the minute - which we think should be unlawful - and it’s not in the best interest of the people receiving care or the people giving care.” At Brunel Care, ITV News visited 88-year-old Joan Jones and her son Bruce Jones. Joan receives care several times a day due to her advanced dementia, while Bruce has also been recovering from his cancer treatment. Despite the best efforts of Brunel workers, Joan's care is regularly being disrupted due to the staffing crisis, with son Bruce having to step in while suffering with his own illness. Mr Jones became emotional as he explained how he tries to conceal his own illness to his mother while taking care of her. He told ITV News: “I tell her I’ve got a sore throat, like you do. “And she’s said, ‘you’re not well’," he said through tears, "because mums know.”

Bruce Jones told ITV News how he's had to step in and help with his mum's care while going through his own cancer treatment

One of Joan's carers, Christine Clapham, said filling in for staffing gaps means she regularly works up to 60 hours a week, and sometimes more than 90, when she's required to be on call. Despite loving her job, Ms Clapham said she had become so exhausted that she tried to resign, but the company had begged her to stay on because they need her. She said: “I don’t want to do all these hours. I want a life, like everyone else has got a life. “All these carers are shattered. We need help. “The amount of times that I say ‘I’ve had enough I can’t do this no more’, and the amount of times I try to take this jacket off… has been about five times in the last month.

"We need help," carer Christine Clapham pleads

“I’ve had [the jacket] thrown back. They’ve said ‘you can’t do this’… because they need me." “The phone’s on six o’clock in the morning until 10 o’clock at night," she added. The government has promised to outline a long-term plan for reforming adult social care by the end of the year, with talk of extra funding for the sector after decades of inaction. But previous mentions of social care, for example in the Queen's Speech in May, have been lacking in detail, leaving care providers demanding urgent reform. Responding to the survey, the Department of Health and Social Care said: “We appreciate the hard work and dedication of the social care workforce, providers and local authorities who are working together to deliver good quality adult social care through COVID-19, and beyond. “We are working with stakeholders to ensure we have the right number of staff with the skills to deliver high quality care to meet increasing demands. This includes running national recruitment campaigns every year.”

In a statement to ITV News, Shadow Care Minister Liz Kendall said: “Even before the pandemic there were over 100,000 vacancies in social care, and Covid-19 has made the situation even worse.

"Unless ministers grip this problem, thousands of elderly and disabled people will be forced to go without the basic help they need to do things like get up, washed, dressed and fed.

"When the prime minister finally brings forward his plans for social care reform, he must deliver a long-term plan for the care workforce, that gives them the pay, training and recognition they deserve.”