Government should take a joined-up approach to NHS and social care recruitment, a new report recommends
"Working every day with health and care teams across the UK, we feel a strong desire, from the frontline, to look at the health and care workforce in a truly joined-up way. What is the advantage of keeping a care worker on one side of the fence and a healthcare support worker on the other, when the roles are very comparable?" Alessandro Alagna, director, Talent for Care
The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), an independent public body advising the government on immigration policy, has warned that well-funded NHS recruitment campaigns are taking staff away from social care.
In a report published last week, MAC urges the government to take a “joined-up approach” to recruiting staff to both health and social care. It should also work with the devolved administrations in planning and executing recruitment campaigns for both the health and social care workforces.
The report, entitled Adult social care and immigration, argues that the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) should develop a “coherent workforce plan in consultation with the sector”. Such a plan, it says, is “vital to make social care an attractive, viable and sustainable career.”
In April 2021, the government commissioned an independent review from MAC to look at the impact of the ending of freedom of movement on the adult social care sector. In carrying out the review, MAC consulted official statistics, spoke to stakeholders in the sector and appointed an advisory group with expertise in the sector.
Roles in the NHS often compete with the social care sector, the report notes, which means that “heavily funded NHS recruitment campaigns can make it difficult for social care employers to hire enough workers. DHSC recruiting policies, driven by NHS demand, may also affect the quality or experience of the talent pool available to employers in the care sector, particularly in times of increased demand for care.” It adds: “The scale of the NHS, and the salaries and benefits it is able to offer, can make it difficult for the social care sector to compete.”
The authors note that the end of freedom of movement has “contributed to shortages in the social care workforce.” The report recommends a removal of the immigration skills charge for all health and care worker visas and a settlement fee waiver or a lower fee for workers spending the full five years working in nursing or care on the health and care worker visa. It also argues, however, that “properly funding social care to allow improvements in pay and conditions is ultimately the key to addressing these workforce difficulties,” adding: “We do not believe that immigration policy is the cause of, or the solution to, all, or even most, of the workforce problems in social care.”
A key recommendation of the report is that the government take a “holistic” view of immigration alongside the funding issues and the unfavourable terms and conditions in the sector. These, it said, are having “serious impacts on the availability and quality of care for those who need it.” The problems are the result of “years of policy decisions not to fund the social care system properly.”
Alessandro Alagna, director of Talent for Care, supported the report’s recommendation to take a more integrated approach to health and care recruitment. “Working every day with health and care teams across the UK, we feel a strong desire, from the frontline, to look at the health and care workforce in a truly joined-up way. What is the advantage of keeping a care worker on one side of the fence and a healthcare support worker on the other, when the roles are very comparable? Retention and engagement, as well as recruitment, could significantly benefit from the integration of health and social care roles – perhaps starting from currently unregistered roles. We need career opportunities for the future, to attract fresh talent and move beyond the health and social care divide.”