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What keeps me awake at night … Karen Lewis, COO, National Care Group

Karen Lewis, COO at National Care Group

Covid-19 has overwhelmingly dominated the care and support sector for the past two years, but as we look to the future, the knock-on effects of the pandemic, and subsequent challenges need to be addressed. In order to protect the vibrancy and future of the sector, and the people we support, the government, care regulators and specialist service providers must collaborate on a strategy for recovery.

Colleague fatigue following their tremendous commitment during the pandemic is one of the biggest issues immediately facing our sector. How we can reinvigorate our teams who have worked so hard is something that keeps me up at night. We need to empower them through supporting their needs and valuing them and the services they provide.

Moving forward we need to stabilise the sector, by investing in competitive wages that reflect the life altering services our colleagues offer and enhancing the reputation of adult social care. I hope we can elevate the work of our colleagues and ensure they are as highly regarded as the NHS is, through the involvement of the government and its prioritisation  of funding.

Equally, reintroducing the people we support to a society that has dramatically changed since the pandemic is a hurdle that keeps me awake at night. As we try to navigate this situation that neither our colleagues nor the people we support have faced  before, our main goal is to ensure we are adaptable and provide person-centred care and support. We’ve strengthened our positive behaviour teams, provided additional training and persevered so that the people we support can unlock their full potential, but without suitable investment, organisations will struggle to remain financially viable and simultaneously provide high quality care and support.

The recruitment challenge is also adding immense pressure at every level of the sector. Retaining and developing talent is imperative to the success of services, as care needs to be provided by highly skilled colleagues. Subsequently, we need to develop future leaders that can act as role models to other care professionals.

The key to attracting people to care is by highlighting the career progression that is available. In showing people it’s a viable career path, not the low skilled job that it’s often thought of, it will appeal to aspiring nurses and support workers, in the same way that a career in the NHS is, deservedly, admired.

However, I worry that in focusing on recruitment, current colleagues could become overlooked. Retention is just as important as recruitment, and care has always been a challenging job that can and does leave an impact on people’s mental health. I’m concerned that as a nation, we do not safeguard our care sector’s mental health enough, especially after the past two years, and this could lead to many professionals leaving their roles.

I hope that we can rebuild resilience, in the same way we are with the people we support. At National Care Group,we have taken great leaps forward in nurturing our colleagues’ mental health; training more than 125 mental health first aiders, as well as partnering with a confidential  helpline and app that is free for use by all, but there’s always more support that can be given.

Looking to the future, my main hope is that we continue to strive to maximise the potential of the individuals we support and ensure they lead fulfilling lives. While our colleagues exemplify our values every day, there is intervention that needs to happen in order to support them in being successful far into the future, and I hope “we can collaborate with the right organisations and governing bodies to make this is a reality.

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