Who would want to be old today? According to the charity Age UK, the UK social-care system is on the brink of collapse. The problem is not only underfunding, but staff shortages to boot.
New figures suggest that, over the course of 2015-16, an estimated 338,520 adult social-care workers quit their jobs. Sixty per cent of them quit working in the sector altogether. With huge staff shortages and unskilled workers filling in the gaps, it’s no picnic being in state-provided care these days.
And it’s no wonder workers aren’t sticking around. Adult social care is an emotionally and physically draining job. What’s more, it is hugely underpaid. According to the BBC, the ‘average full-time frontline care worker earned £7.69 an hour, or £14,800 a year’. Shifts are often long and unpredictable, with one in four care workers on zero-hours contracts or working overtime to cover vacancies.
Last week, the trade union Unison released a video to draw attention to the squeeze this is all putting on the time that social-care workers can spend with patients. The video, titled ‘15-minute Care Makeover’, shows TV personality Claire Sweeney timing a nurse trying to make a home visit in just 15 minutes. Of course, the nurse is unable to fulfill even the most basic level of care. Due to short-staffing, such ridiculously short visits are now the reality in many areas.
It’s not just a money problem, either. The state care system is complicated and not fit for purpose. Councils spend time trying to juggle large numbers of patients with a lack of staff and care-home vacancies, resulting in older patients, who could be cared for at home (and would prefer to be), being treated in hospitals. Poor organisation and overstretched staff leads to nurses and care workers seeing different patients week to week. Not only is this an uncomfortable experience for patients, this is also how notes get lost, signs get missed and accidents happen. Just throwing money at the problem won’t produce any long-term solutions.