Monday, 14 May 2012

Skills, Social Care & Society

Very soon the whole social care consultation merry-go-round will start once again with the emergence of the White Paper. When the Government  publish this  undoubtedly the focus, once more, will be on who pays for care services and how they do so, leaving out HOW MUCH such services really cost.

Part of the debate on social care is about providing quality services but there is little discussion how this is achieved and how the front line care workforce is trained to deliver that quality and why training is so important to achieving the best possible outcomes for those who rely on care services.

Everyone sitting in an office right now knows about Health & Safety at Work, to most it is something that is fairly abstract but rigorously enforced by the ‘Health & Safety Police’ in a manner that appears somewhat obsessive. Yet in social care health and safety is a lot more immediate and is not only about the workers but also about the people they support and care for. Slips, trips and falls, for example, become a much greater hazard for those who are frail and have problems with mobility, it is not just a case of worrying where computer terminal wires trail but all small lumps and bumps in the flooring become potentially hazardous.

Care workers, therefore, have to have a  greater awareness  of health and safety than the average worker and, of course that level of training costs.

One of the favourite things in social care is to compare the workforce (in terms of pay conditions etc) with the retail sector. I have often questioned this comparison but the issue of training helps illustrate why the comparison is a false one, particularly moving and handling. Obviously both jobs involve manual handling, lifting etc but in a supermarket the only handling involves inanimate objects. How much more complex the need to be able to handle people, to help them in and out of bed or the bath, how to use the more complex equipment, such as hoists, which need to be tailored to the individual.

Care workers, therefore, have to have a  greater awareness  of moving and handling than the average worker and, of course that level of training costs.

The same applies to many of the basic training elements in many workplaces where care workers have the additional element of having to take into account how that knowledge applies to those they work with.

Beyond that the care workforce is expected to have additional knowledge that is, generally, only otherwise found in the health sector. This includes infection control and ensuring that the risk of infection is minimised, they need to understand the concepts of cross contamination, the hazards of handling bodily waste and how to deal with contamination if it occurs. Care workers need awareness of medication, how to store it, deliver it and record its use and care workers need to understand the signs and symptoms of adult abuse and what to do if they suspect abuse has taken place.

Society also expects care workers to deliver dignity and respect to those they provide services for. While the words dignity and respect are often bandied about very little is said about what this involves and the principle skill is communication and care workers need to be trained in the complexities of communication in order to listen to and understand the needs of the individual to deliver the best possible service.

Social care is often portrayed as a generic service where care workers are transferable. But, in fact, care services are far from generic, older peoples services are vastly different from learning disability services or mental health service or physical disability services and aside from the general skills listed above there are also specialist skills needed by the care worker dependent on the service they are working in. Knowledge of dementia is an essential skill for working with older people but not in many other services, (although in learning disability services dementia is an issue that is probably needs more consideration as the population ages), knowledge of autism and epilepsy is needed in learning disability services where these conditions are prevalent and, of course, knowledge about specific learning disabilities need to be known in order to provide the best possible service.

Overall then the care workforce  needs  extensive skills and knowledge to deliver the best quality care. This sometimes fails, as demonstrated by Winterbourne View and Ash Court but this cannot be surprising in a society that undervalues care workers and fails to see the importance in ensuring care services are funded sufficiently to allow the full spectrum of  specialist  training to match the  specialist  service that care workers are expected to deliver.

When the White Paper is  published  and the consultation process around the proposed draft social care bill starts they needs to be a greater examination of what we expect the social care workforce to deliver, the skills and knowledge that are needed to deliver quality care and how much investment is needed to ensure these skills are in place.