'Care homes are closing now': PM told urgent action needed to fix staff shortages 'crisis'

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UK care homes are in "crisis" over staff shortages, the chairman of the National Care Association (NCA) has told ITV News, with facilities being forced to close because of workforce issues said to be caused by Brexit and Covid-19.

Nadra Ahmed urged ministers to take urgent action to address the situation, saying many homes "can't wait" any longer, adding that is the recipients of care who are the ones being "let down by this government".

"The crisis is right now. Homes are closing now, they're closing at this moment in time because people just don't have the staff," she told ITV News.

It comes after reports from Coventry and Cumbria that a number of homes are being forced to close, some permanently, over a lack of carers.

A similar situation is being played out across the entire adult social care sector, which also includes care in the community, with 105,000 vacancies and a turnover rate of 28.5% in 2020/21 - meaning 410,000 left their jobs in that year.

But the situation is only expected to get worse, with growing life expectancies meaning 490,000 extra jobs would be required in the industry by 2035.

The owner of Your Care, a care in the community provider which looks after end-of-life patients, told ITV News her company is in an "unprecedented" situation over staff shortages.

"I've never, in all my years in the industry, known anything like this," said Joanna Mitchell, "usually we're turning people away because we don't have the vacancies that they're seeking but in the last six months its completely revered to where we are 30% down on our workforce, which is unprecedented."

She said she's been forced to cut the size of her company by reducing the number of people it cares for, to ensure that "we're able to offer continuity and a high level of care".

"We're having to decide who's nearer to death than the other so we can continue to provide support to that patient and their family and it's a bit like Russian roulette because you're not always going to get it right," she added.

Is Brexit to blame for staff shortages in the care sector?

Ms Ahmed from the NCA said the staff shortages - which have plagued the social care sector for years - have been exacerbated by immigration rules changing following Brexit, which means less foreign workers, and a vaccine mandate for care homes making some afraid to join the profession.

Vinod Patel, who owns Mellows Care Home in Essex, said he has "never" seen the workforce situation before get this bad in his 18 years in the industry. "This is the worst its been," he added.

He said "every single care home" in his area is experiencing the same problems - "they just haven't got the staff".

"As far as new staffing is concerned it's just very difficult to recruit," he added, "even if you get somebody on they only last about four, five weeks and then they're off again".

What is being done to address the situation?

The government has admitted it is a "concerning situation" for care homes, but senior minister Oliver Dowden pointed to a "massive additional investment into the care home sector, including a half a billion pounds to help get more people into care homes".

"Fundamentally we have to make sure that we get the skills from inside the United Kingdom... We know this is a problem but fundamentally that is why we've put the resources in."

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Ms Ahmed said it is "nonsense" the £500 million invested to resolve workforce issues will remedy the urgent situation, adding how it will not be provided until 2022.

Mr Patel agreed, saying: "I don't think the people in government really do care. I know they've got this social care agenda but I just cannot see that helping the care homes at all really."

Asked what ministers could do right now to resolve the situation, Ms Ahemd said they could add carers to the government's 'shortage occupations' list, meaning foreign workers would be allowed to care in the UK.

ITV News UK Editor Paul Brand, who has been reporting on care homes throughout the pandemic, said another problem is that carers feel "hugely undervalued", with many of them earning little over minimum wage.

Ms Ahmed also urged the government to pause its plan for a vaccine mandate on all care home workers, which is set to be enforced from November 11.

A survey by the NCA found that up to 40,000 staff could be forced to leave the workforce over the rule.

"This is not about being anti-vaccinations," said Ms Ahmed, "it is about giving people the time to be comfortable and confident with the prospect just like those in other healthcare settings (such hospitals).

"We will get to a point whereby we will not have enough care staff to safely care for our residents and that is a terrifying thought."