2020 was the year where our nation came together in admiration of carers, who have performed with such distinction and dedication throughout the fight against coronavirus.
Then came a new variant and even greater challenges continuing into 2021 – which has been an incredibly worrying time for all.
I know how exhausted everyone is, how hard everyone has been working and what keeps me awake is thinking of how I can help and what I can do to ease the pressure.
Despite the anguish, I‘ve heard many extraordinary stories of those working in care homes and in domiciliary care going beyond the call of duty for the people they look after.
I have had the privilege of seeing it with my own eyes throughout my career and am proud to have worked alongside such wonderful people who I now have the responsibility of representing through this most difficult of times. I could not be more proud of the care sector and will do all I can to support them.
Tough restrictions remain to keep us all safe but there is hope with safe and effective vaccines and the government is prioritising those at the greatest clinical need, including all social care staff, care home residents and those over 70.
The first dose of these life-saving vaccines have been offered to people living at more than 10,000 care homes with older residents which is incredibly heart-warming to see. Vaccines offer the best form of protection against the virus and I strongly recommend all frontline social care workers who can receive the vaccine choose to take it – they are the best way to protect people from coronavirus and will save thousands of lives and allow us to continue to be there for their family, friends and the people they care for.
I know for many care home managers and residents and their families, visiting have been a huge area of concern. Visits to care homes are crucial in supporting the health and wellbeing of residents but while the vaccines provide protection from serious disease, we do not yet know if they prevent someone from passing on the virus to others.
I worry about the effect on people in care homes separated from family but I marvel at all the ways carers have enabled safe visiting to take place whether through windows or computer screens or in person when possible. I know all those working in care wants to be able to reunite families and have them hug again and I want this too but nobody wants to risk anyone’s health so we have to listen to the scientists. Visits can continue to take place with outdoor visiting, substantial screens, or visiting pods and we will do everything possible to make close contact visits possible the moment it is safe to do so.
Every care home has their own unique set of circumstances which will impact how visiting is delivered and visits at end of life should always be supported and enabled.
I worry about the people being cared for and the people doing the caring. Colleagues and friends suffering illness or isolation puts an extra strain on people. Those still working worry about their friends while those isolating feel guilty and just want to work. But there is no reason to feel guilty. By isolating you keep your colleagues and those in your care safe. That is why it is so important the rules are followed, especially those on infection and prevention control and PPE guidance.
We are all working to ensure we can attract more people to the sector in the short and long-term and that’s why we’ve relaunched our recruitment campaign – Care for Others, Make a Difference. We want jobseekers and furlough staff to contact their local authority to see the vital work that care workers do, the breadth of roles available in care, and how rewarding and valuable a career in adult social care is.
I have been pleased to hear stories from those who have recently switched careers to adult social care, bringing their skills and values into the sector and making a real difference to people’s lives every day.
The pandemic, while bringing its challenges, has truly shown that the care sector is an outstanding essential service in this country and our gratitude must now be turned into action to empower, amplify and raise the profile of the workforce. I am exploring how best to unify the workforce, building on CARE badges to strengthen the identity of the workforce.
I want to boost the status and standards of nursing in social care, and I will be driving some ambitious plans.
We know that this will be another important year in our fight against this virus, and I have no doubt that you will rise to the challenge once more.