Social care staff shortages will leave many people with a learning disability and/or autism at risk of worsening physical and mental health, according to the annual assessment of health and social care services in England by the Care Quality Commission (CQC).

The State of Care report said that the care system has not collapsed, but the system is composed of individuals, both those who deliver and receive care, and the toll taken on many of these individuals has been heavy.

It said as we approach winter, the workforce who face the challenges ahead are exhausted and depleted, which has implications for the quality of care. They cannot work any harder – they need support to work differently.

To put together the report, the CQC used data from its own inspections of services, along with information gathered from people who use services, their families and carers. 

The report made particular reference to people with a learning disability and said not only are they significantly more at risk from Covid-19, but its review of community care found that their physical health, including how Covid-19 may present, was not always considered. 

Many people are not getting good enough support

Edel Harris, Chief Executive of Mencap, said: “The social care crisis has gone from bad to worse – as a society we cannot let it deteriorate even more. People with a learning disability and their families have struggled for far too long. Many people are not getting good enough support, while others are having their support cut or are missing out altogether – all issues that can also impact on people’s physical and mental health. 

“People with a learning disability deserve better, and care workers deserve a pay rise. Every day, people are leaving the profession to become delivery drivers and supermarket workers because they don't get paid enough for the skilled work they do – and this is putting the people who rely on care at risk. 

"The Government needs to invest more money to create a social care system that meets the needs of the people who need care and those who provide it – a system fit for the 21st century.”

CQC needs to take action to keep people safe

The CQC report added that inspections of services for people with a learning disability or autistic people continue to find examples of care so poor that it needed to take action to keep people safe.

This year, more mental health wards for autistic people and people with learning disabilities were rated inadequate than any other NHS or independent mental health service (8%). 20% were rated as requires improvement.

It is now carrying out a year-long programme to transform the way it regulates services for autistic people and people with a learning disability.

The National Autistic Society said this highlights how crucial it is that the government and NHS urgently tackle the crisis in mental health services that see autistic people hitting crisis and being admitted to these wards. 

Tim Nicholls, Head of Policy, Public Affairs and Research Partnerships at the National Autistic Society, said: “People who need adult social care are having to wait even longer to get the support they desperately need, like wash, manage money or get out of the house. This cannot be allowed to continue.

“We know from the CQC’s findings and our Left Stranded report that coronavirus has deepened existing inequalities, including access to good quality health, mental health and social care services. This disparity, however, is not new. Without the right support at the right time, autistic children and adults' needs can quickly escalate and even spiral into crisis.

“The Government must act, by providing the long-term funding the adult social care system and the NHS need. The cost of inaction will be huge.”