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The future of social care

Posted by cornwallcare on July 30, 2020

By Anne Thomas, CEO

The impact of COVID-19 has been a terrible tragedy for individuals and families who have seen loved ones die without being able to comfort them and for communities who have seen their businesses and livelihoods disappear overnight.

The human and economic impact of the disease is huge but there is always a silver lining and, whilst many months – if not years – of challenge and uncertainty lie ahead, there are positives to be drawn from this unanticipated global crisis.

First and foremost is seeing communities pulling together and undertaking extraordinary acts of individual and collective kindness, regardless of their own personal challenges. 

I am CEO of Cornwall Care, a charity that has sixteen homes, 1400 staff and more beds than the NHS in Cornwall. I have seen first-hand how the people in my organisation and many thousands of others working in social care stepped up in the face of huge daily challenges, somehow finding the will and enthusiasm to continue doing their jobs in the direst of circumstances. When the call went out to ‘save the NHS’, they responded with dedication, commitment and compassion – pulling out all the stops to admit people straight from hospital into their care homes to free up precious bed capacity.

What happened next is well documented. Inefficient national personal protective equipment (PPE) supply chains meant care providers like us had to source equipment independently. All our efforts were directed – and continue to be directed – at keeping the people we provide care for, and the people who look after them, safe.  Delays in access to testing compounded the risks to both staff and residents, making what was already a bad situation worse.

I find it very ironic that only weeks after social care workers were officially categorised in a government document as ‘unskilled’, those very same people were being hailed for their frontline role in a global battle against an unseen, ruthless enemy. Derided one moment, tasked with huge responsibilities the next.

Those working in homes have been implementing strict infection control procedures, looking after seriously sick residents and dealing with very anxious relatives who desperately want to be with their loved ones but, at the time of writing, still aren’t allowed to visit. Those working in the community are helping people isolated in their own home – often their only source of human contact in a world made terrifying by a frightening disease and orders to stay inside. 

Carrying on with your job when the stakes are so high and the perils of getting it wrong so enormous, is a huge ask of anyone. Yet that’s what those in social care have been doing.  We have staff who have isolated themselves from their own families in order to continue to come to work, living in caravans or temporary accommodation. Their dedication has been extraordinary, and I have nothing but admiration for the way they have coped. 

We have also been blessed by our local communities taking us under their wing and showing their appreciation for all our team have been doing.  Local businesses have sent us flowers, chocolates, cakes and pastries. Residents near to one home washed all the staff’s cars.  A taxi driver has been giving free lifts to work to carers who couldn’t get public transport due to timetable changes. Food4Heroes volunteers have been providing delicious free meals and furloughed Eden Project employees have been transforming our sixteen homes with incredible garden makeovers.  

We have also received donations of scrubs for our staff so they can be more comfortable when doing their job in challenging circumstances. On top of that, Mason (10) and Phoebe Nelmes (8) walked 154 miles to raise more than £2000 for Penberthy home in Newquay, where their mum is a senior carer and ten-year-old Mia Richardson embarked on a cross-trainer run from Land’s End to John O’Groats – a distance of 1347.1km. Mia’s marathon effort has raised nearly £20,000 for specialist equipment at Blackwood home in Camborne, where she also has a mum who works as a carer. 

Like their NHS counterparts, social care staff have tirelessly continued giving their all during this crisis – often at huge emotional cost. That’s why I was delighted to see Matt Hancock showing off his new social care badge at one of the daily press conferences and why I then felt disappointed when he reverted to wearing just the NHS one for most of his subsequent appearances. Why not wear both? He is Secretary of State for Health and Social Care. There’s equity in his title – why not on his lapel?

Let’s value everyone working in health and social care. And let’s work together, not apart.

I believe our society needs to decide where it stands on care of the elderly. Millions of us supported Captain Tom and his incredible fundraising feat for the NHS, yet there is little evidence of similar excitement when it comes to supporting many thousands of other old and frail people who aren’t able to live independently, don’t have families looking after them and are often having to sell their homes to get the care they need. 

Did you know that it can take over an hour to coax an elderly person to eat, especially if they are living with dementia? Infinite patience, compassion and skill are required and they are precisely the qualities that those working in our social care industry demonstrate day after day, week after week. Specialist care needs to be designed properly and responsibly and that’s why I believe we need a national review into the way care is resourced and commissioned. 

The fight against coronavirus has, in many ways, been a wake-up call. Health and social care colleagues have had to work collaboratively – meaning the boundaries once created to guard individual interests no longer apply and the playing field we’ve been trying for years to flatten is finally becoming more level. To free up beds in the current crisis, we have had to talk to each other and find solutions quickly. That’s what we have been doing and I’m pleased to say, the system works well. 

When this crisis ends – which one day it will – we have to continue that process. Rather than competing for finite resources and arguing over protocols, we need to build on the relationships we’ve forged and start planning holistically. It’s well-known that population numbers are increasing because we’re generally living longer so sensible, people-focused strategies need to be put in place to better prepare our country’s healthcare for whatever the future may bring.

In terms of a COVID legacy, I would like to see more seamless, integrated working. The Secretary of State won’t need to choose between two badges because health and social care will be treated equally and a career in care will be prized and respected for the skilled and professional option it is. 

It’s easy to become entrenched in accepted ways of doing things without thinking laterally and more creatively. The Cornwall Care approach on our organisational chart is to put the person being cared for at the top, with care workers on the tier below, managers next and directors at the bottom. It’s a very different – and sometimes uncomfortable – way of thinking but one that encourages less conventional solutions.

If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s surely that we’re all human beings and community support is vital to our well-being. When we become ill or frail, the people we rely on for our daily needs are just as vital as the ones who treat us in our GP surgeries or, for a limited time, in hospital. 

Let’s value everyone working in health and social care. And let’s work together, not apart.