Better public understanding is needed, not least to ensure awareness of the career opportunities social care can offer.

While details of a National Care Service remain hazy and may never come to fruition, Williams and others say there remains a need for a government-led national campaign to revive the social care brand and reinvigorate the workforce, building on what the public has valued during the pandemic.

Restoring faith in the system will be a challenge and, as Rayner and others said, it is not helped by the Prime Minister’s comments about some homes not following coronavirus safety procedures. Contributors were critical of the media, who they feel sensationalised the impact of the pandemic within care home settings - scaring residents, families and the general public.

As Julie Rayner says: “The public need to be told about the many thousands of examples of great care and dedication going on in social care every day.” But she also cautions that “the public needs to be re-assured that loved ones will be kept safe”.

Greater public understanding

Carrie Pilgrim stresses the need for greater public understanding of how much care actually costs, and how it is funded. “People realise that taxes may need to increase in the future to sustain NHS services. However, for social care there is not enough understanding of the inputs and expertise required to care for people in their chosen homes, or that community care facilities are vital to sustain quality of life and to reduce hospital admissions.”

Interviewees say the sector provides massive scope for career development and this needs to be promoted in schools and colleges. “We as a sector need to be more pro-active in sharing the vast range of careers that are available, less apologetic and prouder of what we do,” David Williams says.

Chris Jackson’s NEC says the sector must “fly the flag”. “We must get out to potential staff via all means at our disposal,” the committee says. “Invite colleagues from other parts of the health and care provision at a local level to do work experience and job swaps, while sharing knowledge and skill to lower some of the operating barriers.”

Equalise pay rates

Mark Adams calls for a five-year plan to equalise social care pay rates with the NHS as a way of restoring pride in the system. Carrie Pilgrim agrees that better remuneration will reduce reliance on bank staff, and in the long term cut costs. Julie Rayner, meanwhile, says there needs to be more emphasis on training and career pathways. “The nurse apprentice scheme offers a clear pathway from carer to nurse.

All agreed that social care providers need a more formal relationship with local hospitals, community and primary care, and local authorities under the Integrated Care System (ICS) umbrella. But they report patchy involvement around the country and no involvement at professional or representative body level from the sector itself.

As Mark Adams says: “We are a charity that introduces innovation and new models of care at our cost. We want to be part of the system. The third sector has massive expertise and skills, it could be a massive opportunity for integration under ICS, but interconnectivity and system planning is rudimentary.”

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