A social care leader his hit out at the “madness” of the NHS poaching staff from care homes and domiciliary care companies in Swansea by offering them higher pay.
According to Mario Kreft MBE, the chair of Care Forum Wales, it was folly for the health service to snaffle workers when social care was facing its biggest ever recruitment crisis.
He warned that tempting social care staff with the promise of bigger pay packets would come back to bite the NHS.
Social care played a massive role in enabling the health service to function but the staff emergency in social care meant that hospitals were unable to discharge patients back into the community – either to their own homes or into care homes.
What should happen instead, said Mr Kreft, was a “levelling up” of pay rates so that staff in social care could earn as much as their counterparts in the NHS.
It was essential to find a long term solution but in the meantime Care Forum Wales are calling for extra funding to provide retention payments for staff to “provide a sticking plaster over the winter months.
The root of the problem was chronic underfunding of social care both by local health boards and county councils.
Fees were calculated using a formula which often determined the pay rates of the staff working in social care.
That meant health boards and councils controlled the market and were able to poach staff by offering them more money.
Mr Kreft said: “The social care sector was very fragile going into this pandemic and one thing that we can learn is how we can ensure we have a very strong sector going forward.
“We need to ensure the people who work in social care and the people they care for have a great deal more consideration.
“It is the case in the early days of the pandemic that social care was an also ran and the focus was the NHS and we paid the price for that.
“I am seeing some very positive actions coming out of the Welsh Government and one of the key elements is how we respect our social care workers and how we respect social care.
“We’ve got to level up social care to be on a par with the NHS. The health system and the social care system shouldn’t be working separately – there should be an efficient, integrated system in which health and social care dovetail with each other to deliver services.
“When the pandemic started two years ago, everything was concentrated on ensuring the NHS did not fall over.
“People did not think enough about social care but thankfully that has now changed but we have to do a lot more.
“Even at this time we have health board across Wales recruiting social care staff with offers of higher pay.
“The irony is that these are the very people social care needs to provide a foundation for the NHS so we have got a long way to go before we have a system that delivers the services we need here in Wales.
“The shortage of staff is the worst crisis that domiciliary care and care homes has seen in living memory.
“Often the people being poached are our most experienced, qualified staff who are the most difficult ones to replace.
“They’re often being tempted by the big bucks of temporary bank contracts which don’t benefit from the same employment rights you would automatically as a permanent member of staff in a care home.
“They’re offering terms that providers can’t afford and are not sustainable on the fees being paid to the independent sectors.
“The fees being paid are a postcode lottery because the current system is broken.
“Essentially, we have 29 variations on a theme because we have 22 local authorities and seven health boards coming up with wildly differing rates.
“We need root and branch reform so we have a complete overhaul of how social care is funded, with a more rational national approach.
“As the First Minister said, the sector was very fragile going into the pandemic so we have to find a mechanism so that people working in social care are properly rewarded.
“What we know is that social care is a vital part of the foundation economy here in Wales.
“It’s worth at least £3 billion a year here in Wales so we shouldn’t be looking at cost we should be looking at the value of social care.
“Without solid social care provision, the NHS cannot perform so we have to make sure we change things for the future.
“We have thousands of job vacancies in social care in Wales and as result we’re seeing people in hospital who can’t be discharged to their own homes because there aren’t enough domiciliary care workers .
“Bizarrely, we’re now seeing care homes not being able to take people from care homes from their hospital beds because they haven’t got the staff because health boards have effectively poached them to work in the NHS. It’s madness and something has got to change.”