“It’s been difficult to keep up everyone’s spirits but the staff have been wonderful” is the phrase top of my mind from the virtual visits I’ve done to care services during the pandemic.
Time and again I have seen grateful smiles from residents in care homes, but I know from going out and about with care workers before the pandemic that caring has its ups and downs. Care work is rewarding but it is also challenging – and Covid has made the job a lot harder.
Every day is made up of countless moments that can make you laugh or cry – each one requiring a response that is both professional and compassionate. What you do is so much more than a job.
The pandemic has asked a great deal of so many people, but perhaps none more so than people working on the frontline in our health and social care services.
Throughout the pandemic, carers have gone the extra mile to keep the people they look after safe, often involving huge personal sacrifices.
I’ve heard stories of staff moving into homes to look after residents during the height of the pandemic. For others, it has meant restricting daily life even more than the rest of the country to minimise the risk of infection.
One of the hardest things for care homes has been restricting visits in order to keep people safe. Like me, I know many of you will have spoken to relatives desperate to see their loved ones. These visits mean so much to residents and their loved ones, but they also make homes feel like part of the local community.
It was right that as we took our first steps out of lockdown in March, we prioritised more meaningful visits to care homes along with getting children back to school. This carefully managed change has already made a huge difference.
But our roadmap out of lockdown has only been possible because of the hard work and sacrifices of so many people, and the success of our vaccine rollout. At the time of writing we have passed the 25 million mark for vaccinations across the UK, including over 90 per cent of care home residents and over 70 per cent of staff.
Getting vaccines into care homes has been a fantastic example of how the NHS, local councils and care providers can work well together – and a good sign for the future as we begin the task of rebuilding from the pandemic.
There is still a way to go, so I hope those carers yet to take up the offer of free vaccinations will do so soon. We’re committed to reaching as many people through our recently launched COVID-19 vaccination uptake plan.
While the vaccine rollout is still making good progress, we’re not out of the woods yet.
That’s why we’re continuing with free PPE until June and we have recently announced an extra £341 million to fund social care infection control measures, extra costs of safe visiting and testing – taking spending on infection control in social care during the pandemic to over £1.3 billion.
Two recruitment drives are also underway to attract more amazing care colleagues into the profession. ‘Call to Care’ invites applicants keen to support the sector during these extraordinary times on a short term basis, whilst the ‘Care for Others. Make a Difference’ campaign is designed to encourage people to start new careers in social care.
Despite the challenges of the pandemic, we are gearing up for reform of social care so that we have a system that is fairer and fitter for the future.
The work of building back better has already begun, with a plans for a Health and Social Care Bill that will further integrate health and social care services and improve how social care is commissioned and delivered.
This is just the beginning, with plans for long term reform of social care to be set out later this year. A stable, supported and qualified workforce is essential for our big ambitions for the future of social care.
Care workers have been truly remarkable in this pandemic. It is for you and the people you care for that we must seize this moment and come out of the pandemic on a path to a stronger social care system.