The report, which looks at the state of health and social care services in England over the past year, praises the efforts of nursing staff caring in the pandemic, but shows there is still urgent need for reform, investment and workforce planning.
In social care particularly, the pandemic has not only exposed but exacerbated existing problems. The sector, already fragile, faced significant challenges around access to PPE, testing and staffing – and co-ordinated support was less readily available than for the NHS.
The report also shows the impact of COVID-19 has been felt more severely by those who were already more likely to have poorer health outcomes.
This included people from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds, people with disabilities and people living in more deprived areas, making the need for health and care services to be designed around people’s needs all the more critical.
Responding to the report, RCN Chief Executive & General Secretary Dame Donna Kinnair said: “It should never be the case that people cannot access health care and these findings should set alarm bells ringing inside Downing Street.
“Even before the pandemic, the health and care system was running under the strain of nearly 40,000 nursing vacancies in the NHS in England alone.
“With further vacancies across social care, this report should act as a wake-up call to ministers to provide the long-term investment the nursing workforce needs to increase both recruitment and retention.
“The failures to tackle the nursing workforce crisis are now very clear, with those most in need of care facing the biggest problems accessing the care they need.
“Services such as mental health and social care were already under huge pressures due to a lack of specialist staff. COVID-19 has now left them struggling to catch up.
“COVID-19 has now magnified inequalities across health and care and this needs to be rectified before it becomes unmanageable.
“The report is clear that developing the workforce needs to be a priority to ensure it better values the skills and professionalism of those who dedicate themselves to their patients.
“We need to see accountability for the workforce enshrined in forthcoming legislation.”