Social care is a vital part of the health and care system, but it has never received the same recognition or respect that is attributed to the NHS. This is in part due to the fact that everybody has direct contact with the NHS, and fewer people have contact with social care. During the last 70 years everybody, in politics, the media, and the public have been extolling the virtues of the NHS and telling each other, and the world, how wonderful it is. Much of this positive narrative is based on the perception that whatever happens to you, the NHS will cure you and send you home to carry on with your life exactly as you did before your accident or illness. Sadly, this is not the case in the 21st century, and living well with long-term conditions is now the most important aspiration of many people.
One of our major challenges is that social care is not very good at blowing its own trumpet. We see in the media, countless examples of NHS staff and organisations proactively engaging in publicity about their services and telling the stories of those who had successful encounters with the NHS. The NHS also has the benefit of significant amounts of public money which is directed to its media profile. Most acute hospitals or trusts have some form of public relations resources, and these are constantly making the case for the organisation and its services.
Social care also has some brilliant stories to champion, and we must get much better at thinking about how we create a narrative that really underscores the importance of social care, and how it transforms people’s lives. Social care employs more people than the NHS, so we have got potentially greater numbers of people who can be our ambassadors. We also have large numbers of people who use services, and who understand their value and can be really powerful advocates for us in the media and with other key stakeholders. I wish that care providers would start to think more strategically about how they use the success stories of our sector and get out a positive narrative into the local regional and national media.
The national media has always been a problem. Broadcasters at a national level, whether they be on television or radio, or indeed the press, only want to hear a negative story. Every day we are assailed by negative perspectives on everything in the national media, and they take every opportunity to create a villain and a victim, and seldom do they put anything into perspective. If 10 million people receive a good service, the national media will focus on the one person who has had a problem.
However, this is not the case in local and regional media, and I really think this is the area where social care needs to start its fight for recognition. If you look at your local newspapers and local radio stations, they are much happier to feature positive stories. Local radio, which often has to broadcast for 24 hours, is often looking for stories about local services and local people. We saw what can be achieved in the recent care home open week, where lots of care services open their doors to their local communities and to their local media. This care week is a real opportunity to champion our positive work and to make people aware of what social care contributes to the lives of the people we support, and to the local economies in which we work.
We have a major task ahead if we are going to emulate the public love for the NHS, which is 70 years ahead of us in championing its services and securing its public position. However, we have a brilliant story to tell so let’s all make sure that we get out into our local communities and to our local media and we start telling people what we do and getting the recognition and respect which, we deserve.