Securing an appropriate workforce is one of the greatest challenges that we face in social care today. Social care is by its very nature a relationship based service, and with the increasing complexity of the people we support, there is a desperate need to ensure that we have a workforce that is values driven, skilled, rewarded and recognised as professionals.
In recent years, we have seen acute shortages in many areas of social care. We are currently dealing with enormous challenges in the nursing workforce and a lot of social care workers had been recruited from EU countries and our imminent X it from the European Union will create further challenges for the sector.
In many ways, the fact that we are in a period of unprecedented challenge in recruiting and retaining staff, is partly down to successive governments who talk endlessly about integration, and then think of workforce planning in the silos. The NHS and social care are treated completely differently for workforce planning and training purposes rather than being part of an integrated system.
The challenge we face is one of increasing need and shrinking resources, both human and financial, and we need to look at how we create a workforce that is fit for purpose in the 21st-century and can move across the system, in the same way that citizens do.
There are many things that we need to do structurally in order to ensure that our system supports the development of a trained and skilled workforce, and where there is both parity of esteem and parity of pay and conditions across all the system. It cannot be justifiable in a system that is supposed to be integrated that we will spend a £100,000 a minute on training in the NHS and comparatively little on training in social care.
Of course, I have little faith that we will see any movement away from this lopsided approach to workforce development. The NHS is too ingrained in the psyche of the public and politicians for any of them to take bold steps to redistribute training and development funding more equally across the system.
Faced with this reality, I believe care providers have to be really clear about developing their own approach to workforce recruitment, retention and development, and they have to create a culture of career development in their own organisations.
Social care is one of the few areas where you can confidently predict will be a career to life. As our society ages and more people with complex needs are living longer there will always be a need for high quality care and support, and the care sector must develop a positive culture in order to attract the very best of the workforce into this rewarding profession.
I believe that it is important that we start with recruiting on values and we train and support people to develop their skills and enable them to deliver high quality care that empowers and enables people who use services to maximise their independence and quality-of-life.
I believe that is important to ensure that the training we give is evaluated and measured for its outcomes to the people who use services. Training should also clearly evidence how it supports staff to do the difficult job of caring for people with complex needs.
Every organisation should aspire to have a culture that is positive and focused on continuous improvement and continuous learning. Staff doing difficult jobs, need to have training, but they also need time for reflection and support to ensure their learning is embedded in practice.
We need, not only to create open learning cultures, but we also need to have career development ladders which acknowledge and reward people who stay in practice rather than go into management as their next career step. In social work, we used to have the role of the advanced practitioner, which enabled people who developed good skills in front line social work to stay in direct services, rather than to move into management and we need to try and replicate that in social care.
Our challenge of course, is that whilst we want to do all these things the system never gives us enough money, and treats social care as a poor relation, or an afterthought. I’m going to make a pledge to myself that the next time anybody talks about integration. I’m going to remind them that it starts with training and development and when we see equality of funding between the NHS and social care. I will believe we are on the path to true integration