Opinion

A Career of Choice

Professor Martin Green OBE, Chief Executive, Care England

There are not many positives that have come out of the COVID-19 crisis, but one of them has been the greater emphasis on social care, in particular a new respect and understanding for the people who work in our sector. For many years we were overshadowed by the NHS and to an extent that is still the case, however, during the COVID crisis we have started to see social care get a much higher profile and also increasing respect and understanding.

When we move out of this crisis, there will be a seismic shift in the economy. Many people, particularly those who worked in hospitality and retail, will have to rethink their career options and social care may well be the new destination of choice for many of them.

Skills for Care recently published the State of Social Care Workforce Report. Whilst that still showed there were a significant numbers of vacancies in our sector, it also identified that these had reduced from last year and I am convinced that part of this has been the COVID effect.

This pandemic has caused a rethink on many fronts and many organisations, as well as individuals have had to challenge their current roles and start  thinking differently about how they fit into the future.

I believe this is a moment in time and us as a social care sector, must grasp it and start to use the current crisis as a platform for reform. In social care this means having a really clear view about the skills and competencies frameworks for our staff with some very clear career escalators and remuneration packages, that are commensurate with the level of skills required to do our job effectively. In the past we have not only been overshadowed by the NHS in the minds of the public, but we have also been a second-class citizen in the allocation of resources that were made available by the government for skills and training. The NHS is awash with public money, which is designed to ensure there is a skilled workforce available to meet current and future needs. The endless talk about integration has had little impact on this area of the sector, and the NHS training and development funds are sitting in silos and are only available for NHS staff. This must change. The people we support do not sit in silos; they move between different bits of the system at different times when their needs change. We need to have a training and development framework that enables staff to move through the system and a career pathway that is truly integrated.

If we look at the demographics, we see the increasing numbers of people who will need care and support in the future. We cannot go on ignoring social care and treating it as if it were a subsidiary to the health service. The challenge of the 21st-century is long-term conditions, and it is social care that supports people to live well when faced with the realities of several incurable conditions. Given that this is the reality, we need to ensure that the system acknowledges and respects social care staff for the things that they do to enable people to live well.

I want the COVID-19 crisis to be the basis of a new beginning in social care training. We need some very clear skills and competencies frameworks, we need accredited training, and precise standards, that  we expect our staff to adhere to. In return for this, we also need to offer some very good remuneration packages that are reflective of the skills and complexities of delivering high-quality social care. We have waited many years for a workforce strategy for social care and I am now calling for a long-term 10 year strategy for social care, which is reflective of the NHS strategy, which will include a very clear career pathway and training options for social care.

We must not underestimate how far we have to go in order to achieve these objectives and particularly how wedded the government is to rewarding NHS staff and not recognising social care colleagues. I recently gave evidence to the Health Select Committee and after my evidence a senior NHS England Director announced in her evidence that there would be an extra £15 million to support NHS staff as a result of Covid. Social care staff have been equally affected as the NHS staff, and yet no money has been made available for our colleagues.

There is a mountain to climb in order to get social care the recognition that it truly deserves but we must all apply ourselves to this objective and to ensure that our colleagues who are consummate professionals and who have proved this during the current health emergency come out of it with greater recognition and better terms and conditions.

 

 

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