NHS Reset is a new NHS Confederation campaign to contribute to the public debate on what the health and care system should look like in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In this blog, part of a series of comment pieces from NHS Confederation members and partners, Sue Evans reflects on the valuable contribution of social care workers in the COVID-19 response and calls for parity of esteem between the NHS and social care.
Now that we’ve moved beyond our first peak of COVID-19 in Wales, we can reflect on how well the NHS prepared for a potential overwhelming of the hospital infrastructure. Field hospitals and extra ICU beds were developed in record time and created significant extra capacity which, fortunately, has not yet been required. They are there for any future wave and/or to help with winter pressures. We may not need all the capacity and we can refine our modelling predictions, based on our real experiences to date.
In homes right across Wales (domestic and residential) the most vulnerable have been shielded and supported by social care professionals and community services, delivered by a wide range of voluntary and independent providers, as well as services provided or commissioned by local authorities.
Many of those providers are small family businesses that will struggle to remain sustainable, unless we find a longer-term funding solution to meet current and future social care needs in an ageing population. The COVID-19 experience has shown us how valuable our frontline social care workers are and how the NHS would struggle without that community-based capacity that keeps people safe and independent at home.
As we quite rightly protected the NHS, we need to reflect on what more we could do to protect social care services before the next peak arrives, as it is only a matter of time, and we can hope that this can be managed locally or regionally to avoid another national outbreak of the virus.
Recent ONS data reveals 29,000 excess deaths occurred in care homes across England and Wales, many due to COVID-19-related infections, compared to the same period last year. It’s recognised now that PPE and testing were initially slower to reach the social care sector and there is evidence that we will not allow this to happen again.
Effective joint working across health and social care, from the government to the front line, helped to improve advice, guidance and resources reaching the care home sector. We have a strong tradition of collaborating to find solutions in Wales and we must continue in that mindset, with a focus on the citizens we serve, rather than our own organisation’s needs.
Examples of social care workers moving into residential care homes, so that they could protect and support residents, as well as avoiding community transmission, demonstrate the commitment and dedication that so many frontline practitioners have revealed. I salute them for the efforts they make every day, across every part of Wales and especially during this pandemic.
We developed a specific ID card for social care workers in Wales and this proved invaluable in providing some form of national recognition, as well as access to many benefits that NHS workers were able to secure. This has been well received and we want to build on this going forward.
The NHS benefits from having a national brand and infrastructure, which makes it easier to co-ordinate efforts and resources, especially in a crisis. We should not allow the different shape and structure that is the social care sector, to get in the way of recognising and rewarding our social care heroes, who have demonstrated their value to society.
Our social care workers have appreciated this recognition but it doesn’t address the larger issue of parity of esteem, when we compare salary levels for comparable roles in the NHS or the guaranteed and funded learning and development support enjoyed by NHS colleagues.
If we aspire to a seamless health and care system, we must address current barriers that get in the way of delivering that. This calls on strong leadership, from those decision makers who have the power to make this happen. When this parity is achieved, we can call them the leadership heroes of the day and I am optimistic this can be achieved in Wales. This is where the NHS was created, after all.
Sue Evans is the chief executive of Social Care Wales. Follow the organisation on Twitter @SocialCareWales
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