There is little evidence that the approach to workforce is integrated across health and social care, despite all the talk about integrated systems and the arrival of integrated care trusts. We saw in the NHS plan a 10-year workforce strategy which identified the professions, skills and roles that will be needed in the NHS and sets about a systematic approach to delivering them.
Yet again we saw social care left on the side-lines with no proper workforce strategy and struggling, as ever, to recruit and retain staff against the backdrop of an NHS who can offer so much more in terms of training resources, salaries, and of course, pensions.
If we are going to be truly integrated, then the system needs to understand that there is a need for a very clear workforce strategy in social care, that will mirror the NHS strategy and due consideration needs to be given to the inequalities in pay, training and pension provision. Unless, or until, this happens, we will always see social care as the poor relation in terms of careers.
The Department of Health and Social Care did a series of workforce adverts on television recently and I thought these were excellent. However, they focused almost entirely on frontline care roles. The next campaign needs to highlight the fact that you can have a range of very successful and diverse careers in care. When we are thinking about how we present social care to potential employees, we do need to be clear that our language needs to reflect the fact that people have professions in care, not just jobs.
If we look at demographic change, it is really clear there will be many more people who need care and support from either the NHS or social care. The reality is we will not have enough people to provide the services if we continue to work in the way we are doing at the moment. We need to craft a workforce that is able to move across different systems, just as citizens do, and that is why I think we need some core skills and competencies that will cross health and social care.
I believe there is a real need to have some portable and recognised social care qualifications, which are excepted across the system, and we also need to develop some very clear career pathways so that people understand that they can move and develop within social care and build successful careers.
Care England, along with many other social care organisations, are currently involved in developing a Care Now Scheme, which mirrors the ones that were done in teaching, which will try to attract people from other professions to go into social care management and delivery. This is a really important time to be developing such a scheme because we may see a radical realignment of the economy because of Covid-19, and many people who currently work in retail, may have skills that can transfer across to social care.
At the start of this article, I talked about the challenges of social care having to compete for staff with the NHS and whilst we cannot offer some of the salaries and benefits and we certainly cannot offer the enormous training budgets, what we can do, is talk about why people enjoy working in social care, the satisfaction it delivers, and the impact that it makes on people’s lives. I have had many conversations with people who have left the NHS and gone into social care, and they have talked about this move being the first time that they were freed from the straitjacket of bureaucracy and enabled to practice their skills and live their values in a much more autonomous way. They also said they were much closer to the impact they were having on the people they supported, and this gave them enormous satisfaction.
As we look towards the reform agenda for social care, it is my earnest hope that it will start with a bold new vision for social care and will put the people who use services at the centre. We must also have a clear strategy on careers in social care, where we understand the skills people have, give them the recognition and the reward they deserve, and treat them with the dignity and respect owed to those who deliver an essential service.