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The number of jobs in adult social care for registered nurses has reduced by a third in England since 2012-13, new data reveals.
The body behind the figures said a possible explanation for the significant drop was that organisations were employing nursing assistants to take on roles previously occupied by nurses.
“The significant drop in nurses working in adult social care is disappointing”
In its latest workforce analysis report, Skills for Care found that there were an estimated 36,000 registered nurse jobs in the adult social care sector in 2019-20.
The numbers had “gradually decreased year-on-year” and were down 15,500 (30%) since 2012-13. Nurse jobs had reduced by 3,000 (7%) since 2018-19.
Registered nursing was the only profession to see a decline in workforce numbers over the period analysed, while jobs overall in the sector increased by 9% to 1.65 million roles in 2019-20.
The report said the nurse reduction “may be related to recruitment and retention issues”.
However, it added that it “also may have come about as a result of some organisations creating ‘nursing assistant’ roles to take on some tasks previously carried out by nurses”.
Skills for Care said it would be monitoring the situation going forward.
Andrea Sutcliffe, chief executive and registrar at the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), and previous chief inspector for adult social care at the Care Quality Commission, described the drop in nurse numbers as “disappointing”.
“A welcome and necessary overall increase in the number of people choosing to work in adult social care comes as we’re celebrating record numbers of people on the NMC register as shown in our latest registration data reports,” said Ms Sutcliffe.
“But the significant drop in nurses working in adult social care is disappointing, especially when Covid-19 has shown just how critical this group of professionals is in caring for people living in some of the most vulnerable circumstances right across the UK.”
She said the NMC would continue to fight to ensures nurses in social care “feel valued and recognised” and that nursing students were given work experiences in the sector.
“Both providers and the adult social care workforce need to be prioritised as they remain at the frontline in combatting Covid-19”
The report – The size and structure of the adult social care sector and workforce in England – also included future workforce forecasts.
It said if the workforce grew at the same rate as the projected number of people aged 65 and over in the population, jobs would increase by 32% to around 2.17 million by 2035.
The latest data in the report was taken between April 2019 to March 2020, before the height of the coronavirus pandemic, and therefore “does not show how Covid-19 has impacted the adult social care workforce”.
“Rather it should be used as a baseline to reflect the composition of the workforce prior to Covid-19 and to give context to any further research or data collected after March 2020,” stated the document.
Figures from the first quarter of 2020-21 – between March and June – showed an increase in staff sickness, with the average number of days off at 8.0% compared with 2.4% pre-Covid-19.
Meanwhile, the staff vacancy rate for the sector was down since the crisis, with a reduction in demand for services “likely a contributing factor”.
Professor Martin Green, chief executive of Care England, which represents independent providers, said the report “highlights in stark terms the need for further investment in the adult social care sector if we are to meet the demographic demands of the future”.
He added: “This report makes it crystal clear that in the coming weeks and months, both providers and the adult social care workforce need to be prioritised as they remain at the frontline in combatting Covid-19.”