Paul Tennant, Chief Executive, The Abbeyfield Society
As the CEO of a large housing and care provider for older people I talk to many residents, families and stakeholders and many of the concerns expressed I share. These concerns include staff recruitment and retention, dignity and respect for residents and accessibility to, and affordability of, good quality services. To this list I would add the disconnect and opportunity missed by ineffective collaboration with the NHS, and, looking ahead, the need for a clear outcome from the social care reform agenda.
The social care sector was under pressure and under funded pre-COVID, and despite the amazing efforts made by so many staff, the sector is also still, in my view, undervalued. We have lived through a 300 year event and all organisations are taking stock and should consider how they will operate in the future. The challenges are extensive and threaten the future of care providers and care provision, but from this adversity we must create opportunity and a successful future.
We desperately need to alleviate some of the current pressures on staffing and bring people into employment to meet the very obvious demand for those requiring care and support. It also presents an opportunity for a wonderfully rewarding career that can truly change the lives of people who have given so much to society throughout their own lives. We need to build careers and opportunity, which requires a commitment from the government and a 10 year plan for social care bypassing party politics and built around integrated care solutions. We cannot carve out the opportunities on our own and require a joined up approach collaborating and cooperating with government, the health sector and social care providers. Above all we need to recognise the value of the social care sector and its impact on society. Anyone who works on the frontline can attest to the importance of the relationships with the people they support and care for.
While it may seem bleak at the moment, we’re all experiencing the same difficulties and there is real opportunity to work together and shape the social care sector to be fit for the future and create better outcomes for the people we serve. It’s important we are aspirational and use our influence to collectively push the change agenda. We must innovate in how we engage with residents, support staff and communities and how we use technology to enhance, not replace, people interaction.
My vision for social care is to be more human; to focus on the resident and the staff member. A service which provides care, dignity and respect for the person and rewards and recognises those who work in the care sector. A fair, accessible and equitable funding infrastructure which is integrated with the NHS and provides a seamless support journey for people as their needs and circumstances change.
In Abbeyfield our residents are at the heart of everything we do, as they have been since the inception of the Society in 1956 to help alleviate loneliness in a caring community. These communities are part of their broader local neighbourhood and supported by the huge contribution made by volunteers and trustees who work tirelessly for residents to meet their needs.
I know from the compliments families give our staff how significant their impact is on residents’ lives. As one relative said recently: “They are angels and deserve our highest praise” – which I thought hit the nail firmly on the head. I am in awe of the compassion and dedication of frontline workers and the lengths they have gone, especially over the past two years, to keep their residents safe.
We can all agree that every person has the right to a happy future and I personally will be doing everything I can to secure real, long-term improvement to the lives of older people. Our job is to give both residents and staff what they require and deserve.