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OPINION: Creating a new future for care and support

Des Kelly

Des Kelly OBE, Relatives & Residents Association Trustee, tells CHP COVID-19 provides an opportunity to provide a new future for social care.

We have certainly been living through strange times as the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has made its path across the world causing tragedy and anxiety in so many ways for so many people. Those living and working in care homes have been on the front line across the UK as well as elsewhere in the world. The speed with which it has spread seems to have caught most care and health services insufficiently prepared.

From personal protective equipment (PPE) to testing and tracking there have been some serious missteps and, as a consequence, care homes were left struggling. Many felt understandably unsupported and exposed. It was a worrying time too for relatives and friends of those living and working in care settings. The Relatives & Residents Association helpline received an influx of calls about the virus and the impact of measures to contain it on those receiving care.

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In the midst of the crisis there appears to have been a recognition, particularly by the public, that care homes are part of a vital set of services supporting some of the most vulnerable people in society. Care workers have been acknowledged as ‘keyworkers’. They may be low paid but they are anything but low skilled! So, as we begin the dream about the future, how should the social care sector ensure that these changes endure so that they contribute to bringing lasting change?

Perhaps it’s not too strong a sentiment to start by acknowledging that things can’t stay as they were – the social care sector is in need of radical reform. Of course, those closely involved in the sector have known this for some time. Reform is seriously overdue and it’s sadly the case that the reform of social care has been something of a political football kicked about by politicians and governments over a very long period of time.

It has languished in the ‘too difficult’ pile because it is complex and the challenges of social care cannot be solved solely by social care. Incremental adjustments just won’t work to keep an unsustainable system operating. We need leadership and ownership. Reform needs a whole system approach which confronts the interrelationships between care and support with health services and housing alongside leisure and transport.

People who receive services need to be at the heart and in control, not structure or systems. The significant contribution of families needs to be acknowledged as the bedrock of care and support – partners in care. The workforce has to be valued as professional and rewarded appropriately. Training and on-going development should be mandatory and linked to a clear career pathway and professional qualifications.  Funding, commissioning and regulation need to be addressed. However, these issues cannot be considered a ‘pick and mix’ as they are fundamentally interconnected and reform will only be successful if they are worked on together. And worked on by everyone with an investment in the outcome, including all the key stakeholders.

Outstanding social care has the power to transform lives. Furthermore, good quality and leadership go hand in hand. But it needs to be leadership at many different levels and across the whole system. Surely it’s not simply dreaming to envisage a future for care homes and services transformed by such systematic reform?

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The author Lee Peart

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