The Royal College of Nursing proudly represents nursing wherever it is delivered. Nurses and care assistants working in social care make up the largest nurse-led service, and professional group of RCN members in the UK.
In this regular column, I want to demonstrate what’s great about nursing in residential care and why our members are drawn to work in this field. I also want to dive ‘behind the headlines’ and examine some of the issues facing social care and nursing more widely. As a professional body and trade union, our strength lies in our membership and this space will be used to share their experiences and expertise.
One thing that attracts our members to working in residential care is the ethos behind person-centred care; building up a long-term relationship with residents, understanding the complexity of their health and care needs. Through expert observation; enhanced assessment and knowledge, and the delivery of skilled care interventions, nursing staff can truly improve the wellbeing and quality of life of their patients in social care settings. They are also in the privileged position of providing reassurance and support to ensure a compassionate and comfortable end of life. Working in social care gives you the ability to practise with the greatest freedom and autonomy, building confidence and innovation in practice; developing strong clinical decision-making and leading and developing teams.
Considering how important social care and the care of the vulnerable is for society, it doesn’t receive the recognition and support it deserves. Many of us are living longer lives but increasingly, we’re living our lives in poorer health, and investment in community services and social care hasn’t kept pace with demand. The Department of Health and Social Care has just announced a new campaign aimed at recruiting more care workers, activities coordinators and occupational therapists into the workforce, but without adequate investment, this is in danger of just being a PR exercise. Our members in the area would say to make social care an attractive place to work it needs a solid cash investment to make up for years of underfunding.
That’s the backdrop behind social care’s high turnover rate and chronic vacancies. In 2018 the turnover rate was 34% and it is increasing. In 2017, the number of registered nurses in adult social care decreased by almost a fifth (18 per cent). A report last year from the National Audit Office exposed how a lack of funding meant employers were struggling to attract and retain staff making it very hard to meet the continuing health needs of vulnerable people. When we need the workforce to increase to keep up with demand, the opposite is happening. And it’s not that nursing staff don’t have high hopes embarking on these careers; it’s that the reality doesn’t match their ambition.
As well as lobbying for and influencing Government policy, the RCN also provides resources to help colleagues working in social care. We produce guidance on all aspects of nursing residents care in a care home to help sustain and improve high standards of care. We also produce learning resources for care assistants and APs who want to develop in their roles.
While it’s often hard to be optimistic about the future of social care, with the Green Paper delayed yet again, we see RCN nurses and care assistants in the sector doing some great work and hopefully, through this column, I can do their stories justice.