The biggest challenge that social care faces are recruiting and retaining staff. This issue has been mounting throughout the Pandemic, and the Government’s actions have not helped us.
Despite being called the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), in reality, it is the Department for the NHS, and this has been evident by several things that they have done to support the NHS with workforce issues during the Pandemic. When DHSC should have supported the entire sector, they have brought forward several initiatives designed to support workforce development and recruitment in the NHS. For example, in response to the shortage of nurses across the entire sector, the Department of Health and Social Care put money into the system that rewarded every NHS employer £3000 if they recruited an overseas nurse. Why was this not available to all the sectors, including social care? They also have developed an NHS workforce strategy and completely side-lined social care. We need an integrated workforce strategy that recognises the interdependence between health and social care. It is no good to make endless statements about integration and still work in silos where the NHS is seen as the important partner and ignored social care.
I am sure colleagues at the Department of Health and Social Care and members of parliament will be irritated by my comments. They will remind me that money was put into the social care workforce at the last spending review and some announcements made during the Pandemic. However, this extra money does not solve the issue of how we pay social care staff, and it only offers more money for professional development. Whilst this is welcome, we cannot hide from the fact that NHS staff are paid significantly more than social care staff, and the public also invests a considerable amount in the public sector pension scheme, which is one of the most attractive elements of working in the NHS, or public service. If we are in a position where we cannot pay frontline staff what they deserve, we need to take a long hard look at the cost of public sector provision and see whether or not we are getting value for money.
One of the things the system does not seem to understand is that social care staff are dealing with some of the most complex cases and supporting people with a range of comorbidities, and they are the same people as those supported in the NHS.
I would like to see a new deal for social care, and it should start with a clear set of skills and competency frameworks and a range of portable qualifications. This needs to lead into some very clear career pathways so that people understand that as they enter the social care workforce, there is a clear career escalator ahead of them, enabling them to build a worthwhile career where they will be properly rewarded and respected professionals.
Unfortunately, I do not see this new vision being delivered by the Government any time soon, so I think we are a sector that needs to take control of this issue. Our sector skills body, Skills for Care, should be leading this agenda and set out a very clear workforce strategy, which will enable employers to professionalise the sector and develop career pathways in social care.
In recent months all the representative bodies have come together with the Care Tech Foundation to develop a Care Now initiative, which will try and encourage people from other sectors to join social care and build successful careers in the future. This model has worked very effectively in teaching and the prison service, and I think it has a great potential to be a game-changer for social care. The sector has embraced this idea, and it has been heartening to see how employers have come forward to offer placements and support this ground-breaking new initiative. I believe that Care Now is an excellent example of the sector taking control of workforce issues, and in the absence of any government strategy, we will have to do this for ourselves. The social care workforce is our biggest asset, and they deserve proper remuneration, reward and respect from our colleagues in the NHS. Unless this is achieved, social care will never reach its potential or be a career choice.