Risk of a "tsunami of unmet need" facing the health and care system, the Care Quality Commission reports

In their annual 'State of Care' report - the first to cover a full year of the pandemic - the independent regulator has called for increased stability and collaboration across services, plus investment in 'new ways of working'.
A nurse holding a patient's hand in a hospital bed

Mental health care, hospital waiting times, and dentistry are just a few areas of concern highlighted by the Care Quality Commission, with fears that without investment and improvement, the entire system 'risks becoming a tsunami of unmet needs'.

Adult social care has been hit particularly badly by the pandemic. The staff vacancy rate almost doubled between April and September 2021, from 6% to 10.2%, and some care home residents are being forced to look for new homes in areas that are already close to capacity.

The report also addresses the toll that COVID-19 has had on the workforce. It praises the hard work and dedication of staff, but acknowledges that rates of stress and burnout are high, with many struggling with anxiety, trauma, and mental fatigue from their work during the pandemic.

There are also fears that without improvement to the retention and recruitment of staff, the health and social care system will continue to lose people to other industries.

As we approach winter, the workforce who face the challenges ahead are exhausted and depleted, which has implications for the quality of care. They cannot work any harder - they need support to work differently.
— Care Quality Commission, The state of health care and adult social care in England 2020/21, October 2021

To try to tackle the ongoing problems, the government has pledged £162.5 million to care homes and home care providers, to help with workforce retention and recruitment. This is in addition to the £388 million announced in September 2021.

Longer term, a total of £5.4 billion will be invested in adult social care.

However, the CQC has stressed that the money must be used to enable new ways of working, rather than propping up existing systems and approaches that are no longer fit for purpose. Improving the training and career development of social care workers will also be crucial.

The 'State of Care' report draws on the experiences of health and social care that people have shared with Healthwatch over the last year. Sir Robert Francis QC, Chair of Healthwatch England, has responded to the report, urging the government to act on the findings.

The full 'State of Care' report is available to read in a range of formats, including easy read and large print, on the Care Quality Commission's website.

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