Nine contracts were returned in November alone, requiring the use of more costly care home placements where new domiciliary support could not be arranged.
‘There’s a big worry at the moment with companies handing back contracts to the council because they can’t recruit enough staff,’ council leader Gerald Vernon-Jackson said. ‘Before Christmas we were taking people back into residential care who really don’t need to be just because of the lack of staff.’
In a report published on Wednesday, director of adult social care Andy Biddle said for each of the contracts ‘alternative provision’ had been arranged but that this included temporarily moving people into care homes which can cost three times as much.
It adds that these had all been handed back due to difficulties in recruiting workers with many now seeking careers in the NHS with better pay and career opportunities and a shortage of agency workers.
A cabinet report said pressures in the city had been exacerbated by changes to the criteria for hospital discharges which have led to people with greater care requirements leaving hospital.
‘[This] has led to significant growth in demand for domiciliary care and has required an additional 2,100 hours per week being commissioned, at a cost of circa £2m per year,' it says.
‘In terms of capacity, social care is paid at National Minimum Wage in most cases and, with the ending of furlough and impact of Brexit, other sectors of the economy are offering more attractive pay rates which reduces the pool of workers.’
According to Skills for Care, there were the equivalent of 122,000 social care vacancies nationally in October and this is expected to grow.
Marcus Kerridge-McColl, the director of Southsea-based Crescent Community Care, said the number of applicants for vacancies had ‘plummeted’ in recent months.
‘In the past we would get as many as 50 applications for a job but only one would end up as an employee,’ he said. 'Now not even the applications are coming in.’
He said potential care workers were instead favouring better-paid jobs in the NHS or other careers entirely.
‘Care workers have been at the forefront of the pandemic but are treated as the poor relation of the NHS,’ he added. ‘Everyone feels a bit neglected and many have given up because the government won’t invest to increase wages.’
Despite these difficulties, he said his company had not had to hand back any council contracts.
His concerns have been echoed by Andrea Pattison, executive board member for the Hampshire Care Association and the owner of St Ronan's care home in Southsea and home care agency Assured Care.
‘I don't think anyone has ever seen recruitment be this hard - it really is unprecedented,’ she said. ‘We’re seeing the start of an exodus.
‘Most of the money is going to the NHS but it shouldn't be an either-or. Both the NHS and social care are equally important parts of the whole system.
‘Raising pay and improving terms and conditions for staff has to be the number one priority but we are subject to the same austerity as local authorities, unlike the NHS. It's so important we get parity.’
The results of a government workforce study published last month showed almost a third of home care workers who left the sector left for better-paid jobs in other area.
More than 10 per cent cited moving to careers with more favourable hours while about the same number said they had left because of stress or being burnt out.
Cllr Vernon-Jackson said the council was promoting its recruitment campaign in a bid to tackle the short term problem in the city but said this would need to be backed up by 'proper funding' from the government.
He said: ‘While we have seen increased national funding for the social care workforce during the pandemic, this is time-limited and has not been sufficient to offer a sustained solution to pay and career development in social care.
‘Care staff are usually paid the national minimum wage rate so there is strong competition from other sectors of the economy who can pay higher salaries - at a time when most people's living costs have increased significantly.’
The Local Government Association backed calls for a relaxation of immigration rules for care workers in a bid to ease these issues.
But David Fothergill, the chairman of its Community Wellbeing Board, said this would only be a short-term fix.
‘The recent adult social care white paper contains some potentially strong measures on care worker recruitment and retention but by the government’s own admission this is a long-term plan, when action is needed right now,’ he said.
‘Care workers should be on the shortage occupation list to help recognise and fill these essential roles but we also need a lasting, long-term solution for the social care workforce which crucially addresses the issue of pay.'
In July adult social care leaders joined forces to outline their priorities for a national workforce strategy for the sector.
Staff recognition, value and reward
Investment in training, qualification and support
Career pathways and development
Building and enhancing social justice, equality, diversity and inclusion in the workforce
Effective workforce planning across the whole social care workforce
Expansion of the workforce in roles which are designed in coproduction with people who draw on care and support, and in roles which enable prevention, support the growth of innovative models of support
They said these needed to be the main focuses of reform and that they needed to be addressed 'as a matter of urgency'.
At the end of December the government issued a £60m 'top up' to councils to support the social care sector this month. It followed the distribution of £162.5m in October for recruitment.
Minister for care Gillian Keegan, the Conservative Chichester MP, said the funding, combined with planned reforms will ‘bring us closer to a world-leading social care system’.
‘Protecting care staff and people who use social care services continues to be a priority, especially as cases surge and Omicron spreads rapidly around the country,' she said. 'Today’s extra funding will ensure that we continue to support adult social care to keep people safe and prevent outbreaks.’