Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Social Care: The Public Perception Hurdle

Social care is something that impacts on the lives of millions in the UK, those who use services, those who provide or commission services, those who care, unpaid, for family members and those who work in providing care. Yet the general public and, more particularly, the national media seem less than enthused about the subject.

One clue to this may be found in the health/NHS debate that has been vigorously contested in Parliament and through the media.

A few days ago the Guardian published a list of 30 odd organisation connected with health and where they stood on the Health & Social Care Bill. Of this only 1 was an organisation that directly represented patients yet there were 10 ‘Royal Colleges’ representing various healthcare professions.

The Royal Colleges do, of course, command tremendous respect and it is easy to understand why. These organisations represent the people whom we may need to save our lives and while there may be a general social decline in the trust of ‘experts’ the Royal Colleges carry a lot of weight in terms of public opinion and media attention.

While there is a multitude of organisations connected with and campaigning for social care none carry the same weight and gravitas as those connected with health.

Naturally part of this has to do with history the Royal College of Physicians dates back to 1518 and even the relatively young Royal College of Nursing is fast approaching its Centenary. Yet social care, in its current form detached from the ‘medical model’ is relatively new and there are relatively few ‘professional’ organisations connected with it.

Obviously the College of Social Work has just come into existence and, perhaps, its most immediate task is to embed itself in the public domain as an authoritative voice on social care.

Aside from this though other organisations may be too detached from the public perception of the immediate issue, for example the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services represent the councils commissioning social care rather than being directly involved in delivering it. Compare a Social Services Director (essentially a civil servant) to a Surgeon or Physician who gives hands on (literally!) health care, we have to have more faith in the medical professional because their actions will directly affect us.

Aside from these ‘professional’ organisations most of the others either represent the care users themselves or the organisations providing care services. With the former the Guardian list has shown users groups do not command the attention that they perhaps should but unless the public attention is grabbed by social care it seems unlikely that the users of social care will either. Trade organisations will suffer from the same inertia of public interest particularly as the predominant coverage of social care is where the system goes wrong and providers fail.

The Royal Colleges also act as centralised points for dissemination of research and innovative practice and whilst there is an abundance of excellent research available in social care and many academic institutions carrying out that work the route through to public perception appears fragmented.

Even in terms of ‘think-tanks’ representation of social care is limited. The Kings Fund and the Institute of Public Policy Research both, certainly, provide excellent contribution to the social care debate but their primary focus is elsewhere.

Social care is diverse but no more so than health provision and obviously the two overlap in significant areas. We need to achieve greater public awareness and interest in social care but, at present, lack the structure and gravitas to engage the attention of the majority of the mainstream media and, through them, the general public.

Perhaps we need a Think-Tank solely dedicated to social care to disseminate research and practice, command media attention and generally raise the profile of social care or, perhaps, more professional recognition of those who work in front line care (a College of Registered Social Care Managers?) to add to the College of Social Work.

Putting social care high on the national agenda is important and we need to look at how this can be best achieved for the benefit of the millions involved in social care.