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HALF a million nurses have been left “with no choice but to consider strike action” because of government failure to deal with the crises in health and social care, the nurses’ biggest union warned today.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN), with a membership of more than 465,000 registered nurses, said adult social care is suffering its own crisis of understaffing caused by low pay and shocking working conditions.
NHS England, representing NHS trusts, said that thousands of hospital beds are being blocked by patients who cannot be discharged because of the lack of social care availability.
The Commons’ cross-party levelling-up, housing and communities committee has called for an immediate injection of cash and for publication of a 10-year plan from the government to save social care.
RCN director for England Patricia Marquis said: “Fixing social care is key to tackling the NHS backlog.
“Without investment, hospital patients cannot be discharged into the community, beds are full, and accident and emergency departments are backed up with ambulances waiting outside.”
The social care sector is short of more than 100,000 staff according to recent reports – with low pay blamed as the main factor.
Ms Marquis said: “Social care must become a more attractive place to work, with salaries that at the very least match the NHS.”
She welcomed the committee’s call for change, but said: “But for any reforms to truly succeed, the workforce crises across the health and care sector must be addressed in parallel.
“Ministers must come up with ways to boost the domestic recruitment of nursing staff and reduce our disproportionate reliance on valued colleagues from overseas.
“A simple way to recruit and retain staff is to pay them fairly.
“It is ministers’ failure to respond to repeated warnings about staff shortages, putting patient safety at risk, which has left nursing with no choice but to consider industrial strike action.”
Unsion head of business and community Donna Rowe-Merriman said that the government should “ban profiteering, bring in proper regulation and create a national care service.
“This would help improve staffing levels and the quality and availability of care, lessening the pressure on an overwhelmed NHS.”
Social care provision was privatised by the Thatcher government in the 1980s.
Management body NHS England says that on a daily basis 11,590 people who are fit for discharge from hospital still occupy hospital beds due to lack of social care availability.
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