The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has suggested a long-awaited government whitepaper on social care reform fails to address challenges around workforce shortages and stresses the importance of getting these reforms right to protect some of society’s most vulnerable people.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has promised to “fix the crisis in social care once and for all” and the recently released whitepaper – People at the Heart of Care: adult social care reform – sets out a 10-year vision for adult social care.
Included in that vision are proposals to reinvest a portion of the £5.4bn funding raised by a new health and social care tax towards assisted living for older people. There is also suggestions of investment more than £100m towards improving technology, including innovations such as digitising resident records to devices through to devices which track falls and can enable greater independence for wearers.
The whitepaper however made no firm commitments to increasing care worker pay, nor include a thorough, funded workforce strategy, both of which have been criticised by the RCN.
It called on pay improvements to reflect and recognise the skills and responsibilities of care workers, a more credible, funded workforce strategy “to meet the needs of the population”, and a universal framework for fair pay, good employment terms and safe working conditions or the advancement of nursing roles within social care.
Alongside calling out perceived shortcomings with the vision, the RCN is recommending a more collaborative approach to improvements, urging ministers to “listen to the voice of nursing staff” and address the workforce challenges with a fully-funded strategy covering all aspects of the health and care workforce in England.
This strategy, they suggest, must include overall supply of staff, staffing levels, skill mix and professional education in order to provide the best possible care to patients.
RCN England Director, Patricia Marquis, said in response to the government whitepaper: “The government’s plans to fix social care 'once and for all' will not succeed if no one in power is willing to come up with a fully costed national workforce plan that aims to put an end to the workforce crisis permanently.
“The importance of getting this right can’t be understated considering it affects the most vulnerable in our society.
“Tens of thousands of expert social care staff, from registered nurses who lead and coordinate services to skilled care assistants, are leaving their posts. One reason behind this is, in an over-stretched system, they can’t give the high quality, dignified care that puts each person at its centre.
“There needs to be greater ambition in these plans to turn things around. The government needs to listen to health and social care nursing staff and take their concerns into account. Many are concerned that social care is a postcode lottery and only national planning and leadership can overcome that.
“Otherwise, this is just another paper exercise and will never address the underlying issues in social care reform.”
The introduction of whitepaper policy documents like these by government are intended to set out proposals for future legislation and provide a basis for further consultation before a bill is formally presented to Parliament.