Nursing staff shortages in care homes could get worse in the wake of Brexit adding to a looming “crisis” in the sector, a former minister has warned.
Norman Lamb, now Liberal Democrat spokesman for health, told a conference of care providers yesterday that the sector was “living on borrowed time” due to chronic under-funding amid rising demand.
“There are a huge number of vacancies in the care sector particularly for nurses”
He highlighted the fact that many providers were now shying away from public sector contracts, which were necessary to ensure care for some of the most vulnerable frail and elderly people.
“I hear too many cases of providers warning that they may leave the publicly funded system to focus on private care,” he told the Care England annual conference in London.
Meanwhile, providers are also struggling with staffing shortages that could get worse when the UK leaves the European Union, he warned delegates.
“There are a huge number of vacancies in the care sector particularly for nurses,” said Mr Lamb, who was a care minister in the former coalition government.
“That could get worse if, as a result of Brexit, there is a real clamp down on immigration because the system depends on workers from other parts of the EU coming to work in health and care,” he said
He reiterated calls for the establishment of an independent cross-party commission to look at the future of health and social care and produce a “21st Century Beveridge Report”.
“The public doesn’t know the scale of the challenges and gaps”
Crucially, he said there was a need to re-balance resources away from the acute sector, with more investment in preventative services in community, primary and social care.
Increasing funding for acute services at the same time as cutting funding for other parts of the system was “self-defeating” and simply piled more pressure on the NHS, he warned.
Instead, there was a need to move towards a single, pooled budget and a single commissioning process to eradicate the “fault line” between health and social care.
Mr Lamb said the public must be part of the debate but, at the moment, most people had little understanding of the scale of funding problems because of a failure to communicate and what he described as “a conspiracy of silence”.
“The public doesn’t know the scale of the challenges and gaps in health and care funding,” he said.
He told the conference that health and care services “could be much smarter in the way they use money”, including investing in technology to boost communication and information sharing that helped prevent care failings.
“It is incredible that we still have faxes flying around the NHS every day of the week, every week of the year,” he said.