Professor Martin Green, CEO, Care England
The Covid pandemic saw social care on the frontline of a war against this virus. Tragically, well over 30,000 of our cherished residents died during the first phases of the global health emergency. This created enormous challenges for our dedicated workforce, and many colleagues had to face the loss of residents they had supported for a long time.
Over the last 30 years, the dependency levels and frailty of many care home residents have significantly increased, which has meant that residential care is often an end-of-life placement. Little consideration is given to the impact on staff who go through what could be described as a professional bereavement.
Often within social care and health professions, there is a tendency to pretend that staff do not have feelings and that it is somehow weak to express grief and sadness at the loss of people in your care. It is my view that the people who work in health and social care have incredible values and are also very connected to the people they support, and it is up to us all to recognise the impact that loss and grief will have on their lives. That is why I believe the care services should develop some clear support services. Staff must have an opportunity to grieve and build up resilience to continue to live fulfilling lives, even when they work in the profession that is so often about supporting people when they die.
We can learn many lessons from the hospice movement, which is similarly tasked with supporting people at the end of their lives. One of the essential elements of a support package is giving people time to reflect and talk about the person who has died. This can be with other colleagues or with the families and friends of those they have supported. It is essential that people have the opportunity to remember the person and particularly the positive things about them.
There is also a need for some people to access more formalised counselling and support services. Some care providers have made links to organisations such as Cruise bereavement counselling and publicised helplines and resources that can support people with grief.
The challenges of what social care has been through during Covid are unprecedented. Further support is needed because many staff are suffering from post-traumatic stress because of the number of people who have died during the pandemic. The NHS has set resources for its staff, and these resources should also be available for social care staff.
The people who work in social care are our biggest asset. We owe it to them to ensure that they have all the resources and support necessary to fulfil this incredibly important but sometimes very difficult and challenging work together with training programmes that enable people to understand this complex role. We need a similar framework of resources and support services so that colleagues are never left isolated to deal with the many challenges they face, not least the grief of losing people they support.