'We've never known it like this before': Care staffing crisis sees waiting lists double in a year

UK Editor Paul Brand spoke to an 88-year-old forced to stay in a care home due to a lack of carers in the community

Waiting lists for social care have almost doubled in a year, according to figures obtained by ITV News. 

Across England, Scotland and Wales, the number of people waiting for a place in a care home or to receive care in their own home is up by 91%.  

Unlike NHS waiting lists, statistics for the care sector are not publicly available. 

But for the first time, a freedom of information request returned by 87 councils has revealed the soaring waiting times in almost every part of the country. 

In Cheshire East, waiting lists are up by 2450% in the past three years. In Salford, they have risen by 1460%, while in Dundee they are up by 609%. 

ITV News has been reporting for months on the pressures in the care system caused by a shortage of staff. 

Most councils have an ‘unmet needs’ list – residents who have been assessed as requiring care who have yet to have their needs provided for. 

In total, at least 10,000 people on any given day are either stuck in hospital or unable to receive care in their own home due to delays, across councils who responded to our request. Extrapolated across the country the figure is likely to be much higher.

In Leeds, where waiting lists have risen fourfold in the past year, the situation is so desperate that instead of being returned to their own homes, hospital patients are sent to care homes despite being well enough to live independently. 

One home on the outskirts of the city has been housing 88-year-old Myra Hall for five weeks after she was discharged from hospital. 

"I might have only a few years left, I want to make the best of them" - 88-year-old Myra Hall has been stuck in a care home since being discharged from hospital despite being able to manage at home if she had someone visiting her

While she is very happy with the care provided at Knowle Manor, she is well enough to return to her own home, but there is currently no care company available to give her the daily visits she needs. 

She told us she did not need to be in a care home and desperately wants her independence back, saying she misses "being able to put the kettle on and have a cup of tea...go to bed when I want".

"I can manage everything. When I get older, when I get to 90, I won't be able to. I might have only a few years left, I want to make the best of them."

Florence Lowth, 72, tells ITV News she missed "going out and enjoying myself" with her family. She has been in a care home for months awaiting a package of care so she can go home

In the next corridor, 72-year-old Florence Lowth hasn’t been able to return to her home for months. She too has been unable to find a care company who can visit her. 

She told us she did not imagine spending her older years "like this".

"I miss seeing my kids, my grandchildren and my great-grandchildren and going out and enjoying myself with my family." 

Councillor Fiona Venner, Executive Member for Adult Social Care at Leeds Council, told us their waiting lists were unprecedented.

She said: "We've never known it like this before, it is unprecedented. It's the result of Covid, it's the result of ten years of cuts to local government funding, it's the fact that we can not compete on wages with retail and hospitality, and particularly Amazon, it is a crisis and it's only going to get worse as we go into winter."

Councillor Fiona Venner, Executive Member for Adult Social Care at Leeds Council, told ITV News she had never known the care system under so much pressure

In September, ITV News revealed that the care sector across England is facing its worst ever staffing crisis, with a third of care providers having to hand back contracts to councils because they do not have the staff to fulfill them. 

A combination of low wages, Brexit, pandemic fatigue and mandatory vaccinations have left more than 105,000 jobs vacant.

At SweetTree Home Care Services in north London, the staffing situation is so acute they are now making the heart-breaking decision to refuse care for patients who wish to die in their own homes, meaning they must spend their final days in hospital. 

Barry Sweetbaum, founder of Sweettrea Care Home Services, told ITV News: "Last Friday we had a call from the daughter of an elderly lady who was in hospital with terminal cancer, and she wanted us to provide end of life care so she could spend her final days at home. "In the end, despite our best efforts, staffing meant that we couldn’t fulfill this need and we sadly had to refuse the package.

UK Editor Paul Brand looks at what is being done to remedy the problem

"To the best of our knowledge that lady had to spend her last days in hospital. Previously, before the staffing crisis, we’d have been able to make this work."

In September, the government promised an extra £5.4bn for the care sector in England. But most of that will be spent funding a cap on care costs of £84,000, rather than investing in care. 

In last month’s budget, the Chancellor promised an additional £162.5m to attract people into care. But that equates to just £100 per worker. 

Further funding for councils – who commission social care – was also criticised as falling short of what is needed. 

Jane Townson, CEO of UK Homecare Association said the "risk of unmet need which now faces adult social care is more serious than ever before".

She continued: "Some providers are unable to staff existing contracts and are handing work back. Recruiting and retaining staff is currently more challenging than ever. Inadequate government funding for social care over many years has led to poor pay, terms and conditions of employment and poor commissioning and procurement practices.

"Pressures during the pandemic have added to staff turnover, and losses could be further exacerbated if vaccination as a condition of deployment is implemented.”

This week, the government launched a new five month ‘Made with Care’ recruitment campaign to attract staff into the sector.

But in an interview with ITV News UK Editor Paul Brand, Minister of State for Care, Gillian Keegan, said pay was not the top priority for carers. 

Responding to Paul Brand's question asking whether "carers really need adverts or do they need higher pay?" the minister responded: "First of all they need recognition and value, that's the most important thing for anyone in any career."Paul Brand: "Is that more important than their pay?"

Gillian Keegan, Minister of State for Care, tells UK Editor Paul Brand that being valued and recognised for your work is more important than pay

Gillian Keegan MP: "I think it is actually if you look at all the evidence. The most important thing for anyone in any workplace is to feel valued and recognised for what you do. That is actually number one.

"But of course pay is part of everybody's package, we all go to work for a reason, we all look at our circumstances and of course we all need to pay our bills, so I'm not saying pay isn't important, it is important, that's why this government has increased the national living wage. "I would say, after many years of working in business, that actually it is not the number one thing."Paul Brand: "Ultimately, you're not changing the equation here for people, are you? The benefits of working in the care sector remain the same?"Gillian Keegan: "The benefits of working in the care sector are plentiful anyway, because you get the opportunity to help somebody who is most vulnerable, who is most in need, absolutely relying on you to help them live their daily lives."