Overview of the health and social care workforce

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Part of Time to Think Differently

The NHS employs 1.4 million people (1) and social care 1.6 million people (2).

The number and mix of staff in health and social care are a major determinant of the quality and efficiency of care. Workforce trends will have a major influence on health and social care provision in the future.

Together the health and social care sectors employ one in ten of the working population (3).

The health care workforce differs from the wider workforce in a number of important ways:

  • It is highly educated – 48 per cent of staff professionally qualified (1).
  • It has a high proportion of women workers – almost 80 per cent of non-medical health service staff (4) are women compared to 46 per cent of the wider workforce. In England, 43 per cent of doctors are women (5) as are the majority of medical trainees (6).
  • There is strong demarcation of roles and responsibilities, such as prescribing powers, between different staff groups; these are often reinforced by legislation or regulation.
  • The length of time it takes to train doctors, nurses and other professional staff means that it is difficult to balance supply and demand.

The social care workforce is different again.

  • As in health care, about 80 per cent of all jobs in adult social care are done by women; the proportion in direct care and support-providing jobs is higher, at 85-95 per cent (2).
  • Most adult social care jobs (1.3 million, 74 per cent of the total) involve directly providing care. The rest comprise:147,000 managerial and supervisory jobs, 100,000 professional jobs (including social workers, nurses and occupational therapists) and 204,000 administrative, ancillary and other jobs (7).
  • More than 20,000 social workers are employed, mainly by local authorities, and their role is changing in response to different models of service delivery (8)
  • The rest of the social care workforce is relatively unskilled. In 2008 two-thirds (67 per cent) of people working as ‘care assistants and home carers’ claimed to be qualified to NVQ Level 2 or above, and 7 percent had no qualifications at all (7).

Next page: Medical workforce


  1. NHS Information Centre (2012). Report. NHS Workforce: Summary of staff in the NHS: Results from September 2011 census
  2. Skills for Care (2010). Report. The State of the Adult Social Care Workforce in England
  3. Estimation by The King's Fund
  4. NHS Information Centre (2008). Report. NHS Staff 1997-2007 (non-medical)
  5. NHS Information Centre (2012). Data. NHS Staff 2001-2011 (medical and dental)
  6. Centre for Workforce Intelligence (2012). Discussion document. Shape of the Medical Workforce: Starting the debate on the future consultant workforce
  7. Skills for Care (2011). Report. The Size and Structure of the Adult Social Care Sector and Workforce in England, 2011
  8. Centre for Workforce Intelligence (2011). Report. The Adult Social Care Workforce in England – key facts