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Call for action on social care nurse shortages as population ages

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Fresh calls to address nursing shortages in social care have been made, after stark new figures revealed the accelerating ageing rate of the UK’s population.  

A report, published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), showed there were likely to be an extra 8.6 million people aged 65 or over living in the UK in 50 years’ time, taking the total number in this group to 20.4m and making up 26% of the total population.

“This confirms the future will see an even greater demand for nursing skills in care homes as the population ages”

Rachel Gilbert

The number of people in the 85-plus age category were estimated to increase the fastest, from 1.6m in mid-2016 (2% of the population) to 5.1m by 2066 (7% of the population).

Health leaders said these changes would add to pressures on social care providers, which are already struggling to recruit and retain nurses and other staff.

The ONS report showed one in five men and women aged between 75 and 84 have at least some problems washing or dressing. This rises to 34% of men and 42% of women at ages 85 years and over.

In addition, the number of people living with dementia in the UK is set to jump from 850,000 to more than 2m by 2050, the ONS found. 

In May, a report by the Commons’ public accounts committee, a group of MPs that oversees government expenditure, claimed the adult care sector was in a “precarious state” due to high turnover and vacancy rates among staff groups such as registered nurses.

The report, which raised concerns about the impact of Brexit on the workforce, stated: “There is an urgent need to reverse the poor public image that care work has to boost recruitment and retention across the care sector.”

“We recognise the social care system is under pressure due to an ageing population and we’re committed to reforming it”

Department of Health and Social Care

Rachel Gilbert, director of quality and governance at private social care provider Care UK, said the ONS figures strengthened the argument for action on nursing shortages and the need to promote a more positive portrayal of care work.

Ms Gilbert, a nurse for more than 30 years, stated: “The sector is already changing in the sense that care homes are now supporting far more people with serious, chronic health conditions than they ever have in the past.

“Many of these conditions, which would previously have seen people being nursed in hospital, are now being managed by the nursing team in care homes,” she said.

“This announcement from ONS confirms that the future will see an even greater demand for nursing skills in care homes as the population ages, hospitals can’t meet demand and society recognises that a hospital bed is not the best place for someone living with dementia or a long term serious health condition,” she warned

Ms Gilbert called for financial support for nursing students from the government to be reinstated and for NHS England to boost the number of training opportunities for would-be nurses.

“I also believe that there is an untapped seam of former nurses who have left the profession, often for family reasons, who might be tempted back to the workplace with the right financial support, perhaps a one-off grant, to help them with the training needed to refresh and update their skills,” she added. 

Latest figures from NHS Digital showed there were 11,483 nursing and midwifery vacancies in England in March. 

rachel gilbert

rachel gilbert

Source: Care UK

Rachel Gilbert

Sharon Allen, chief executive of Skills for Care, the workforce development body for adult social care in England, said the ONS report showed that “demand for social care support will increase as our population ages which makes it essential that we continue to promote social care as an attractive and fulfilling career option for nurses”.

Ms Allen said her organisation was working to meet the demand for nurses in the sector through a return to practice pilot and supporting the development of the nursing associate role. Skills for Care is also taking action to promote social care as a positive career option for nurses, she said. 

A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said this autumn it would launch an adult social care recruitment campaign to “raise the image and the profile” of the sector.

She added: “We recognise the social care system is under pressure due to an ageing population and we’re committed to reforming it to ensure it is sustainable for the future.”


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Readers' comments (1)

  • It strikes me as a dispiriting job. Looking after the very old is a glimpse of our own future (if we live long enough).

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