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What keeps me awake at night… Kathryn Smith, Chief Executive, Social Care Institute for Excellence

Kathryn Smith, Chief Executive, Social Care Institute for Excellence

I can’t stop thinking about the contribution of a particular care home manager on one of our webinars back in April. Sarah Mitchell, who was in charge at the Bridge House care home, West Yorkshire, was talking at a time when care homes were suddenly in the news about the extra measures they were needing to put in place, often with very little support, to keep themselves and their residents safe. The public and policy people were beginning to realise that people like Sarah were doing an amazing job in challenging times.

But what is likely to keep me awake at night is the idea that, despite Sarah’s efforts and the contribution of the care workforce, where they are putting their lives at risk and continuing to make a difference to people’s lives daily, what happens if we don’t change the situation where care staff have unfortunately often been a forgotten front line? Clapping NHS and care workers has been a great part of the British way of coping with COVID-19 but those staff also need to know that they have the chance to be tested and to have the right protective wear (and to trained on how to use it).

Office for National Statistics figures in early May revealed that the death rate for people working in social care in England and Wales was significantly higher than the general population. That’s the sort of thing that should keep anyone awake at night.

We have creativity

Our sector was sadly unprepared for the virus. We lacked good facilities, equipment, technology and frankly, enough care workers.  But in my previous job at Alzheimer’s Society, I saw the energy and commitment of staff towards finding better ways to support people with dementia. Alex Fox, who’s Chief Executive at Shared Lives Plus told me recently that, as a sector, we have more creativity than we often realise. People and organisations are finding a million ways to offer their help, knowledge or skills to others, often for free.

But it’s also about the people who we support. My Auntie sadly succumbed to COVID-19 while in a care home. Her ‘virtual funeral’ was a deeply moving affair. Like so many relatives across the country affected by this crisis, I have reflected deeply on what we should have done to reduce its deadly impact.

Social care is crucial

At the time of writing we’re just started a small amount of easing of the lockdown and I wonder what the situation is now on the day that you read this. When this slight easing started, it became an opportunity to reflect on the challenges that people like care home manager Sarah have faced and will continue to face; and to acknowledge the recognition of the cruciality of the social care sector over those last few months.

We have continued to press for the best quality of safeguarding people, the adherence to the Mental Capacity Act and Care Act 2014; and in other areas of social care that safeguard people’s freedoms and gives them the best experiences and outcomes. We know that these issues are really important to the sector as was evidenced when we launched new staff training virtually in safeguarding, with over 3,000 people signing up to our training in 24 hours.

But we need to go further: We need to ask how we see social care in the future. We don’t want to just put the sector back together, like it was before; we want to think bigger about how we build a sector fit for future generations.

So, what keeps me awake are concerns for the sector but also hope for a workforce that, despite the challenges, feel that it’s time to think big about social care. Care home manager Sarah Mitchell said back in April that, for her, just as important as dealing with the crisis that lockdown brought was thinking about the next six months. As she told us on the webinar: “We get on with it and manage what’s put in front of us”. I’ll sleep more soundly when I know that what we have put in front of them is the right system and support to ensure safe and high quality care for everyone that needs it, even during a crisis!

COVID-19 support from the Social Care Institute for Excellence


Edel Harris





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