NHS vs. Adult Social Care: What is the Difference?

Share on twitter
Share on facebook
Share on linkedin
Share on email

Wondering if to become a care worker or NHS staff? Need a deeper understating of NHS employment vs Adult social care before deciding?

 In this article, we define these two types and many questions to take into considerations.

Are you thinking about a career in adult social care or the NHS? We’re here to help! Though we specialise in care worker recruiting, our goal is to provide you with all the information you need, regardless of our speciality. 

We’re here to help you walk into the career you’ll feel satisfied with knowing you’re going to be happy, fulfilled, and informed.

What’s the difference between NHS employment and adult social care?

There is a common misconception that adult social care falls under the NHS services. Though the NHS is involved in the adult social care healthcare section, there are several additional elements involved in the social care system.

Considering a career as a care worker? It’s important to have a clear understanding of the difference between working for the NHS and working in adult social care.

Before you choose between a career with the NHS and the social care system, ask yourself
the following questions, “Am I passionate about the healthcare of patients? Or do I want to
provide them with the support to maintain as independent a life as possible? 

If you’re already working as a care worker, you may have seen how your job relates to the services the NHS provides.

 Your work has strong ties with healthcare, but there are some limitations to
what you’re officially qualified to do.

If you look into the role of adult social carers and the services the NHS provides, you might
find some clarity about your future career. Perhaps there is a way for you to transition or find opposition that bridges these two institutions. 

If you want to learn more about the differences between healthcare from the NHS and adult social care, read on and learn how these variances affect care workers.

What is Adult Social Care?

Adult Social Care refers to non-clinical support and services for persons over the age of 18. This support is of a practical nature, enabling vulnerable persons to live as independently as possible. People receiving social care often have either physical or psychological disabilities or are of old age. 

Since the UK has an ageing population, the number of care workers needed to care for the elderly is increasing. Adult social care integrates four essential corners:

1. Health
2. Welfare
3. Housing
4. Leisure

A care worker supports their client so they can better manage all four corners of their lives.
Examples of adult social care tasks include:

What Is the NHS?

NHS is short for National Health Service. This organisation gives British residents free or partially funded access to certain healthcare services. The saying goes that NHS services are ‘free at the point of use’.

Examples of NHS-covered services include:

The government covers the costs associated with these healthcare services. A portion of British taxes go toward covering these medical costs. Small illustration from kingsfound.org.uk

What Is NHS Continuing Healthcare?

NHS Continuing Healthcare, or CHC, is a national guidance framework offering healthcare and social care for adults with a primary health need. 

This guidance defines a primary health need as care of a mainly health-related concern rather than a social care concern.

There is an assessment process that determines whether the adult needs primary healthcare or social care. 

If the assessment indicates that the person has a primary health need, the NHS covers all costs. This includes any social care costs associated with the primary health need.

This is when the NHS might employ social care workers. Still, it remains the responsibility of local councils to arrange for care at home. So, as the care worker, you still might not be in
direct contact with the NHS.

The Difference Between Healthcare and Social Care

The NHS has no legal definition of what ‘healthcare’ is, however, according to the National
Framework for NHS Continuing Healthcare, it does state the following for healthcare needs:

Such a need is one related to the treatment, control, or prevention of a disease, illness, injury, or disability, and the care or aftercare of a person with these needs (whether or not the task involved has to be carried out by a health professional).’

Now, let’s compare this statement with the definition of social care, in the same document:

‘…is focused on providing assistance with activities of daily living, maintaining independence, social interaction, enabling the individual to play a fuller part in society, protecting them invulnerable situations, helping them manage complex relationships, and in some circumstances, accessing a care home or other supported accommodation.’

The key difference is; healthcare involves the treatment of a certain medical condition, while adult social care is more about offering people the support to cope with their conditions. 

In this case, it doesn’t matter whether these conditions are of a medical nature or related to old age.

One could argue that social care still falls under healthcare. After all, the last part of the healthcare description does mention ‘care or aftercare’, and there is no requirement for a healthcare worker to provide this sort of care.

In fact, this is one of the grey areas for care workers. Many cross the fine line between social care and healthcare, yet there are differences in qualifications and, in some cases, pay.

Shared Pressures in Healthcare and Social Care

Both the adult social care system and the healthcare system have staff shortages. According to a House of Commons publication, there is a job vacancy rate of around 8% for both sectors. This equates to over 100,000 jobs in each sector.

As the percentage of British residents over 65 years continues to grow, there is rising pressure to get these vacancies filled. The problem, however, is the number of adults in need is growing faster than the number of healthcare and social care workers.

Seeing as there is a shortage of healthcare and social care staff, it’s more challenging for the elderly to get the care they need. Some have to rely on their friends and family members, while others still don’t get access to support at all.

The high number of vacancies is, however, an opportunity for you to find a decent number
of clients. It means you have a big chance of getting hired, even as an independent care

Another advantage is that NHS and care worker recruiters are actively working on offering
adequate training. This gives you the option of taking on extra training so you can fulfil higher job positions with stricter qualifications.

On the other hand, the worker shortages are also placing extra pressure on existing care workers.

Many care workers work long hours, take on more clients, and may also be involved in
more care needs than what’s required according to their job description.

As a care worker, you may have to coordinate with service providers from the NHS to ensure your patients’ needs are met. There are many crossovers between your role as a carer and the NHS healthcare services.

These crossovers can become confusing. In practice, some care workers cover aspects of both social and healthcare. Still, it’s important to understand the difference and know where the limits of each are.

Working for the NHS vs Adult Social Care

Generally, the NHS only employs healthcare workers. The exception is that adult social care workers must be employed under the NHS Continuing Healthcare. 

Although the NHS funds everything, it’s still mostly local councils taking care of the arrangements.

In any job, choosing the right employer is important. It influences your job satisfaction and your benefits. So, what is it like working for the NHS versus private recruiters?


One aspect worth considering, is the difference in salaries. According to Payscale, the hourly wage for NHS care workers is ₤1 more than popular private care recruiters, Mears Group PLC and Caremark.

Also, according to Payscale respondents, the average hourly wage at the NHS is ₤9. This is said to increase to the 2020 National Living Wage of ₤9,30.

According to a Resolution Foundation report, 58% of front-line care workers are currently paid less than the real living wage. Care professionals warn there is a lack of funding for social care, which is why care worker salaries are lower than they should be.

There is a fear that the rise in National Living Wage puts too much pressure on private care
providers, as Simon Bottery describes in a King’s Fund blog post.

 There is a chance that more care workers will be put on zero-hour contracts, instead of receiving a steady monthly salary.

Since the NHS is a government organisation, you can expect them to abide by the wage

However, considering the funding pressures, there may be cost-cutting measures
elsewhere. For example, more experienced staff may not earn much more than new recruits, or perhaps the staff benefits will face budgeting.

This may also affect your choice between working for the NHS or a private care recruiter. The change in salaries may mean the wage gap between NHS employees and independent care workers narrows.

Career Prospects

The advantage of working for a care company, is there is a clearer career path. If you want to climb the ladder, it’s often better to work for the NHS or a private care company rather than an independent care worker.

If you have a single employer, then it is in their interest to further your training. Training you means they are improving their labour force and are thereby improving their services to patients.

It is especially important for care organisations to train their existing staff now that there
are shortages to make up for the lack of skilled worker applicants. Training costs time and
money, but for many, the investment is worth it.

As an independent worker, maintaining and improving your skills is your own responsibility. You have to figure out how to fit training into your regular work schedule. On the other hand, many care worker recruiters are also playing a proactive role in job training. 

It’s also in their best interest to have highly skilled staff registered in their employee pool.
Regardless of whether you’re an independent or salaried worker, advancing your career involves additional training and obtaining extra qualifications. 

Find out whether you qualify for an Advanced Learner Loan, which can help with the costs of training.

The more qualifications you can list on your CV, the better. Make sure your qualifications are always up-to-date and make an effort to learn new valuable skills.

So, Which is Better for You - Adult Social Care or the NHS?

The Answer is Both

At Adult Care Voice, we are strong advocates for care workers, regardless of whether you’re self employed, an NHS employee, or a private care agency. Which form of employment is best entirely depends on your own needs and preferences.

It’s difficult to make a direct comparison since there are many different social care agencies in the UK. What’s more, you will likely come into contact with both sides throughout your career. 

The UK government is moving toward a more integrated approach for health- and social-care. This is part of the NHS Long Term Plan.

The goal is to create legislation that breaks down the barriers between social care and healthcare to improve the collaboration between the NHS and local councils. 

What does this mean for care workers? 

This care reform means your role as an adult social care worker also becomes more
integrated with healthcare. 

Perhaps you’ve already experienced some of these crossovers at work? This is a strong indicator that you should invest time in gaining more qualifications, including the healthcare sector. 

This will make you more eligible for the future jobs that come with this reform.

In summary, the lines between the NHS and adult social care providers are becoming increasingly blurred.

 The best solution is for you to familiarise yourself with both sides to prepare yourself for a long-term career. 

Now that you know about the differences and advantages, you can now move forward and choose your career path. 

If you’re ready to consider an incredible career in adult care, all you need to do is
download our guide for a better understanding of what you can expect and when.

We’re here to make your career as a care worker as convenient and satisfying as possible with a comprehensive guide to take you step-by-step into this new venture.

Share on twitter
Share on facebook
Share on linkedin
Share on email
About the Author:

Evans B. Ofori

Evans B. Ofori is the founder and CEO of Adult Care Voice. Evans and his team help people who have passion for helping people find a satisfying and rewarding care worker jobs.