Whenever we talk about leadership, it is always seductive to think of people in very senior positions. However, in social care there is some brilliant leadership shown every day by people who work directly with the people who use services, and in our sector, leadership is not the confine of the chief executive or director, it is everybody’s business. I am so proud to say that frontline leadership is an area where social care really excels.
Social care is one of the most rewarding, but at the same time, one of the most difficult and complex professions that anybody can enter. Every one of the people we support is an individual with complex needs, which may be medical, physical, phycological or social, and these needs are fulfilled everyday by social care staff. The complexity of what we do, really underlines how important it is that people make decisions in real time and show leadership in how they deliver care. It is interesting to note that many care workers do this so well, and so automatically, that they do not really consider themselves to be leaders, and yet, they are delivering decisions that can have a huge impact on people’s lives, ensuring that the best interests of the person who uses the service, and the values of the organisation are always visible in their decisions. This is really complex work and requires so many skills, as well as the exercise of judgement.
In many professions in the NHS, this is recognised with a registration scheme, proper status and it is rewarded with extra money. For example, nurses are accountable for their practice, and this is why they are registered. This of course is the same for nurses in social care, but it is not the same for our dedicated frontline colleagues and I think, sooner or later, we must acknowledge the complexity of their work, reward them properly, and give them much more access to training and development opportunities, and also acknowledge them with a registration scheme and higher pay.
I am an advocate of registration, but this must be the last in the list of things that show we regard social care staff as the professionals they are and give them the proper status and reward that is appropriate for the complexity of the work they do.
In recent years we have heard endless discussion of integration, and the Government has now developed ICS’s (integrated care systems) that will be charged with integrating services, and they will also have also had responsibility for planning the workforce. I have a heavy degree of scepticism about what these new systems will deliver, and I have concerns they will focus almost entirely on the NHS. However, I do hope some of them will really step up and deliver an integrated approach to the workforce, thinking about how they align the pay and conditions in the independent sector, with those in the NHS. One immediate thing they could do to help improve integration, and also to show respect to the social care workforce, is to open up the training available within the NHS to everyone in social care. If they did this, they would show they are starting to acknowledge the social care workforce as an essential part of an integrated system.
We also need the Government’s reform agenda to acknowledge that social care staff have been left behind in their pay and conditions, and we need to see a funding settlement that brings enough money into social care to pay our fantastic staff what they richly deserve. It is also important that we deliver very clear career pathway and acknowledge the professionalism of the people who work in our sector.
We have a long way to go to reach a position where social care is properly regarded and respected, and sadly, some of the national leadership, is not nearly as good as the leadership we see at the frontline; Perhaps we might get a better system if we swapped people over!