Working to care: humanity at its best. A reflection.

For the whole of next week Scottish Care and other stakeholders will be engaged in a series of events focussing on attracting women and men to consider social care as a career and profession. As part of this there will be a virtual event on Wednesday 28th  called ‘Creating Pathways to Social Care Recruitment.’ The event will have sessions delivered around recruitment opportunities, employability programmes and pathways to students coming from Higher Education Institutions.

I’ve had many conversations and meetings over the last few weeks which have confirmed for me something I have known for some time. Our frontline workforce both in the community in homecare and in our care homes are tired, exhausted and weary. They have worked above and beyond in their efforts in the last year to keep some of our most important citizens safe and as well as they can be.

Having got through the worst of the first and second wave pandemic many people have been taking the chance to have a break and take time off. For some the opportunity to reduce the manic pace, to relax with family and friends, has given them the chance to reflect and consider. Inevitably for a few this has meant that they have taken the decision that they want to seek other opportunities and to either leave their current role to go and do something else in health and care or indeed sadly to leave the sector. Whilst absent rates directly related to Covid19 have reduced sharply what we are now beginning to see are organisations with an increasing vacancies for posts, perhaps especially signs of emerging vacancies in the nursing profession. There are lots of reasons for this and a single analysis would paint a partial picture, but undoubtedly the sense of trauma and distress of the last year and its impact on mental health and resilience has taken its toll and is a significant contributor to an emerging issue of recruitment and retention challenge.

I had a telephone conversation this week with someone who has worked throughout the whole pandemic in a care home. The care home involved was hit very hard in the first wave with the loss of too many residents. She spoke to me of the upset and deep sadness felt by her and colleagues; of how those emotions were replaced by a determination to protect and to do all that they could to support and care; and of how there was a growing demand and pressure with changes to practice and care support. She also spoke of how determined she and her colleagues were to make sure that what she called “the old way of caring” was restored as quickly as possible; a state where staff had their professionalism and skill valued, where families were seen not as “people who had to make appointments to see their loved ones but were the care home’s left hand” were restored. She yearned for a return to pre-pandemic times when her care home was a place of laughter and life not solely a focus on infection prevention and control. She confessed to me that she had seriously thought of giving up her job. The stress in working elsewhere would be a lot less. But she decided she would stay or in her words she ‘could not go.’  She said:

“this job has made me who I am and if I was to leave it, I would lose part of myself. I love being here and I love everyone I support. It may sound corny, but I really mean it. I was born to care. I don’t want to do anything else.”

Now lest I get accused of suggesting that social care is a vocation and unless you have that sense you should not be working in the sector that was not what was meant here. What this person talked about with such passion and conviction was her sense that care, for her, was something more than simply any other job. It was, in her mind, a profession, demanding great skill, aptitude and qualification. It was also a role, and I could not agree more with her, that should demand all of us to better reward and remunerate those who do it. But in all her words she kept coming back to her personal conviction that care was a role which was unlike any other job.

I know those words might read uncomfortably for some but having been around social care workers for such a long time I think she is spot on. It is not that care workers are heroes- the language of heroism has little value – it is that care enables you to show your humanity to the fulness.

There are many roles and responsibilities which are crucial and critical to the fulfilment of human society, but surely there are few as important as the roles that enable you to support another human being to achieve the fulness of their own life; few roles more rewarding than to be present to soothe fear and distress, to be there when someone struggles to communicate and be understood and ultimately to be the solace in suffering and the presence of love in the moment of dying?

Care is special. Those gifted in its realisation are deserving of all our support and advocacy. But it is also immensely hard and draining, both physically and emotionally. So that is why care workers do not just need claps and recognition, appreciation and praise. After the year so many have endured the social care workforce needs to be upheld by a community and system which attends to their mental health and wellbeing. We need a holistic approach to care for the carers which appreciates the uniqueness of their role, and the painful marks of what they have been through. So it is, I believe, that all those standing for election in the next few weeks need to prioritise mental health, bereavement and grief support for our workforce in health and care.

I have always been and will always remain in awe of the astonishing compassionate giftedness of those who care. All that most of us can do is to support them and create a society and systems that value them. But I leave the last word to those of a carer who has written ‘A Carer’s Poem’ for the Care Workers Charity:

A Carer’s Poem

Oh to be a carer and look after those

Who for this, is not the life they chose.

It makes you feel proud and you can stand tall,

Another day you gave your all.

A helping hand, a willing ear

Gives them confidence with no fear.

If I can do this, you can too

They just need a helping hand to pull them through.

Shouting, crying, singing or laughing,

Sleeping, eating, dressing or bathing.

It’s you they need to make their day,

Come and give it a go, what do you say?

Time is precious to those in need,

Happiness comes from a few good deeds.

So, it is given freely along with a smile

Why don’t you come and give it a trial?

See https://www.thecareworkerscharity.org.uk/news/carer-story-and-poem/