The care sector has responded to the COVID-19 crisis in an incredible way, embracing new technology and working practices, and maintaining a vital link between homes and family members. Now, it needs to build on this momentum and create a new vision for the future, says Professor Martin Green OBE, chief executive of Care England and board member for National Care Group.
As an industry, we have had to learn many lessons during the pandemic in a comparatively short space of time. What has stood out to me is the way it exposed the fault lines in health and social care, and how many people simply felt abandoned.
We’ve not seen a pandemic of this nature since 1919 and yet we’ve found that social care has not only been on the frontline but absolutely central to keeping people safe at a time of crisis. However, what was clear was that no one realised and we had to constantly fight to be heard. At the beginning, I saw guidance that was changing four times a day because the people writing it didn’t understand our sector. However, the interdependence between health and social care has come to the fore as we’ve made our voices heard.
If we’re not careful, the discussion about the future of social care will only focus on how these services are funded, but we’ve got to go broader than that. This pandemic has been our 1948 moment. And, just as we had a new vision to develop the NHS, this is our moment to create a new vision for social care.
The people who need social care are valuable human beings with exactly the same rights as everyone else and, as care professionals, it falls to us to advocate for them and step up to the mark to ensure their voices are heard. The past year has seen us develop a voice and, now we have that one, we’re not going to make any less noise as we recover from COVID-19.
Making ourselves heard
One of the challenges we face as we consider reform in the future, is the need to clearly communicate that the care sector will not going back to being ignored. We must ensure the profile we have gained doesn’t slip and it’s very pertinent issues remain on the agenda. I’ve no doubt that in the next few years we’re all going to go on a journey and make big strides for the people we support – but it will be a tough one.
I recently delivered the keynote speech at a one-of-a-kind virtual event hosted by National Care Group, where I addressed more than 1,000 of its colleagues to celebrate their hard work throughout the pandemic. There’s no doubt that carers across the country have been amazing over the past year, and it’s only right that they should be recognised for the work they do.
The event was hosted by radio and television presenter Jo Whiley, who herself had campaigned for people with learning disabilities to be prioritised for the COVID-19 vaccine. Her campaign was an indicator that we have a system that doesn’t acknowledge people with cognitive impairments or brain injuries. We’ve learned that the hard way and have done a lot to put ourselves on the map and make progress in changing those perceptions.
However, that’s not to underestimate how tough the pandemic has been and we must acknowledge that we’ve lost both colleagues and people we support. Their sacrifice must be acknowledged in how we progress social care in the future.
At the heart of social care is the people and the relationships we form with them. It’s about establishing that rapport, understanding the challenges they’ve faced and working with them to build the confidence they need to live the best life they can, rather than simply giving them access to good services.
We’re seeing a lot of change in our sector, and I know that can be difficult and challenging. But I always say that you can either ‘fight it or grab it’, and steer that change in a way that holds fast to your values. Change is part of life, and the social care sector has seen many things accelerate as a result of the pandemic, such as technology and data, in a way we never have before.
This technology boom during the pandemic has meant that colleagues have been able to forge and maintain a link between the people they support and their families in a much more effective way, and have got better at communicating between the two parties as well. I firmly believe that we need to continue building more technology into care in the years to come.
As we continue to emerge from the pandemic, there are many elements that need considering, from how we keep colleague morale high after a pandemic that has gone on for so long, through to safely reinstating visits and giving the people we support the opportunity to get back out into the community.
There are also longer-term issues around funding, how services are commissioned and how we move from an approach that’s prescriptive to one that focuses on outcomes. However, I’m confident about the future because I know that people in the sector, like National Care Group, are working tremendously hard to uphold the values of social care and ensuring the people we support are a number one priority.