For some years now we have been facing a significant challenge in how to recruit and retain our workforce. Partly this has been because of the funding of social care which has not enabled us to pay our colleagues what they are really worth. When you have a system that survives on inadequate funding the work that people do tends to be seen as a job, rather than a career. In reality, working in social care is one of the most difficult and complex roles that anybody could perform, but at the same time, it is also one of the most incredibly rewarding and people can really see the difference they are making to peoples’ lives.
Over the last 10 years one of the words that is been bandied about more than any other, is integration, and we are constantly hearing that there is a desire for an integrated health and social care service. I want to reclaim the term integration and remind those who manage and develop health and social care services, that good integration is about the experience of the person who uses the service, rather than the integration of the structures and organisations that we currently have.
Despite the endless talk about integration I have seen little evidence that this has been applied to how we train, reward and recognise our colleagues. The way in which NHS staff are rewarded, given training and respected by everyone in society, bears no resemblance to the way in which social care staff are treated.
The priority given to the NHS is manifest in so many ways. I have forgotten how many television documentaries are focused on NHS staff. I recently surveyed a television guide and saw that in one week there were a range of “documentaries” such as GPs: Behind Closed Doors, Inside the Ambulance, Emma Willis: Delivering Babies and 24 Hours in A&E, to name but a few. What is interesting about many of these programs is their focus on the dedicated and hard-working staff within the NHS system. The people who work in social care are doing the same complex work, but without both the recognition and reward available to the NHS.
There is little that social care can do about these inequalities or about the way in which one system is being prioritised over the other. Faced with this reality, we must adopt a completely different approach to attracting people from health to social care and also to attracting people from other sectors into our own.
One thing that social care has is a quality of work which is not constrained by endless bureaucracy and which enables the individual practitioner to really use their skills and initiative to transform lives. When I talk to NHS staff, one of their biggest frustrations is the way in which they feel straight jacketed by the system and not allowed to make judgements and use their skills effectively. The quality of social care work is, in many cases, much better than some other roles and we should make more of this when attracting our workforce.
There is also a need for social care to fish in a pool of people who have a valuable contribution to make, but who do not want to work full-time. One of the joys of our system is that there is the opportunity to be flexible and to attract people back into the workforce who will want to commit to a few hours a week. I think we should target early retired healthcare and public sector workers, who may have a contribution to make, but who may not want to work full-time.
I think we should also be reaching out to people who may have been carers and through this role have developed a range of skills which could be so useful to our sector. Often when people have been caring for a long time and then person, they support is no longer there, but they still have a lot they want to contribute and they have gained so many skills that can be usefully deployed in social care.
Recruiting and retaining the best staff is a real challenge, but we should remind ourselves we are a fantastic sector with a lot to offer in terms of satisfaction and flexibility, these are our strengths let’s play to them.