Guest Post from National Director, Karen Hedge

‘We care because we care’

When I heard this I sat up, I listened and I remembered.  What this lady was telling me was that no matter what challenges she faces, she will turn up, she will be there.  But I couldn’t help but wonder if, with the need to cover long hours with limited support networks in a socially undervalued sector, there will come a point when she can’t care.

I was fortunate to meet this lady, and many other care sector staff, from front line to senior management and executives, when I recently had the honour to accompany Becca Gatherum in facilitating mental health focus groups with a view to exploring both the various mental health pressures experienced by care staff and methods to alleviate these. The resulting report will be launched at Scottish Care’s Care Home Conference on 17th November.

This lady happened to be a care home manager, but I have since heard the theme repeated by front line staff and by home care and housing support providers.

The whistle stop tour of people, places, policies and politics that I have been on since starting at Scottish Care in June has also been a whistle stop tour of emotions; echoing the sheer joy, shock, awe, laughter, sadness, satisfaction, confusion, pleasure, frustration, and hope that I (and I wager many others) have experienced throughout a career in the care sector.

But all the while I have been wondering: ‘who will care when you can’t?’

Pressures such as:

  • A workforce shortage, with 77% of care homes and 89% of home care services having staff vacancies, in a context of increasing need as the population ages and lives for longer with complex needs. The workforce itself is ageing, with 22% of independent sector care home, care at home and housing support staff aged over 55, which puts added pressure on shortages, and of the course the impact of Brexit is already being felt as we lose European workers. And whilst it is becoming increasingly likely that you will hear the phrase ‘social care in crisis’, sadly the impact that the mainstreaming of this rhetoric may be having is to further compound the situation by making it more difficult to retain and attract staff into a profession which is being negatively portrayed. We need to find and share some positives. I know they exist – I am fortunate to be chairing the judging of the National Care Home Awards.
  • Providers being unable to invest in staff training and support because they cannot spare them the time off rota, at the same time as knowing that providing that training and support is what is necessary to enable them to continue to care about care.
  • The impact of the ‘time and task’ nature of many commissioning packages which put a time limit on caring. Imagine an actor, had to repeat a 15 min script to a succession of audiences over an 8, 10, sometimes 12 hour shift, then go home leaving the character and any emotional connections behind. But these are not actors playing a part, they are real people forming real caring bonds and connections. As a former commissioner I remind my colleagues that the fourth part of the commissioning cycle is review, and that is not just a review of the provision, but also of the commissioning itself.

And whilst there are many more pressures I could go on to list, this activity in itself does not answer my question, but it does help me to see my role at Scottish Care more clearly. As a membership body, we have responsibilities to our members, but we also have unique access to a wealth of knowledge and information about the sector which we can promote and use to provide the evidence for change.

So, instead of asking ‘who will care when you can’t?’, I will now be asking, ‘what can I do to support you to keep caring?’.

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