We keep hearing the term ‘the new normal’ but what exactly will the ‘new normal’ look like for social care post Covid-19? How can we ensure that as a sector we maintain a profile, are a key consideration of political thinking and not an afterthought, when life, if it ever returns to normal?
It is without doubt, a sad fact, that it has taken a crisis to put social care in the limelight. Whilst the government issued guidance for social care to respond to the growing crisis, it certainly took a while, before someone switched on the lightbulb and social care and its role on the frontline was finally publicly acknowledged. At the outset of the crisis and immediately following the lockdown, social care barely got a mention. The focus of the impact of Covid-19 centred on the NHS, its workforce and the government’s strategy. Whilst everyone was concerned with the PPE situation within the NHS, no one spared a thought for how care homes and domiciliary providers were protecting their frontline staff and how supplies of PPE were reaching an equally vulnerable workforce. In fact, it was not until there was a realisation that people were dying in care homes and in the community and there were fatalities in the sector, that suddenly the media and politicians started to properly acknowledge the sector as a major player in the fight against Covid-19.
Should we be surprised by this? Of course not, because for far too long when politicians and the media have talked about health and social care what they really have been talking about is health and in particular the NHS. Now, while we welcome and embrace the acknowledgement of the sector and all that it does, we should also be planning to ensure that the pedal stool the sector now has a seat on is not suddenly removed in a game of musical chairs, when this crisis is finally over. As a sector, we need to continue to lobby for better pay and conditions for the frontline workforce and for social care services to be more sustainable funded going forward.
Without a doubt, as the long-term health impacts of Covid-19 becomes clearer, we will see a growing demand for more complex care provision that will place greater pressures on an already fragile sector. To meet both existing and future demand for social care, it will require cross party-political will, and fundamentally a commitment to a sustainable investment model, which will enable the sector to invest in its workforce and its own future resilience. With the appointment of the Minister for Care, Helen Whately in March, we should ask ourselves where she has been and what has she been doing to support social care. It certainly seems she been wearing the cloak of invisibility by her distinct lack of absence. We will monitor with interest if the Minister steps up and supports social care rather than taking a back seat at the public’s expense.
Society needs to recognise that without social care there would be no NHS. It underpins every aspect of the service and certainly, throughout the crisis, if social care hadn’t stepped up to the plate, the NHS would have buckled under the pressure of Covid-19. We often hear about bed blocking in hospitals, trying to get patients out the back door. Social care obviously plays a pivotal role in this however, it also plays a major role in them not going through the front door in the first place and with additional support this could without a doubt result in reduced hospital admissions.
So, what is our aspiration for ‘the new normal’ social care sector post-Covid-19?
We should be working towards an integrated mutually dependent partnership with the NHS which is built on trust, respect and a clear understanding of roles and responsibilities in which we work together in the best interest of the health of the nation and the people we support.
As such, we challenge the Minister to step up and fight the corner for social care to help us achieve a more level playing field. If social care is seen as an equal on the frontline in a war against the invisible enemy, then it should be also recognised as an equal in peacetime.
Written by Debbie Cooke, Director of Operations & Deputy Chief Executive of Local Solutions