Can Brexit Make Social Care Great Again?

30/09/2016 10:23

It's a fact that the EU referendum result has divided Britain and caused political chaos and economic turmoil. As a result, the impact of the UK's vote to leave is most likely to have a major impact for the health and social care, especially as the sector is already facing huge operational and financial pressures.

And whilst there's been intense speculation about the future residence rights of the estimated three million EU migrants already living in Britain, not much has been said about the country's social care workforce.

Over the past ten years, there's been a significant increase in the number of European migrants in the social care workforce. Recent reports estimated that in the first part of 2016 alone, over 80% of all migrant care workers who moved to England to take on a social care role were from Europe. Any restrictions to the migration of European citizens would likely reduce the overall number of workers in the social care sector, making it even harder to recruit and retain the necessary numbers of staff.

Although this makes shocking reading, I'm not convinced this is the sort of things the sector should focus on at the moment. Yes, we could go on and on about what might happen to the social care sector once Article 50 is triggered but instead, the more rational thing to do is embrace change, undo the old methods and turn the situation on its head, into something positive.

They say 'every cloud has a silver lining', and perhaps even the Brexit cloud has one? Maybe this is the time when the political turmoil is turned into a catalyst for a much needed revolution in our already troubled social care sector, where focus is to make home care great again.

It's a fact that each day, hundreds of thousands of home care workers visit vulnerable people to help them with basic daily activities, whether that's cooking, cleaning or anything else. This demand for home care is only going to grow in response to increases in life expectancy and the widespread drive for care to be home based, rather than in care homes.

For this to be done properly, we need to leave the old stagnated ways behind and embrace new technology in order to create an efficient top quality service. The sector would deploy, highly qualified care workers who understand how to achieve good outcomes in creative ways. The job would then be focused on achieving the agreed results for each client, rather than simply just delivering a list of tasks as quickly as possible. This would make for a more interesting and rewarding role for the care worker, whilst also attracting more people into the sector.

Taking this one step further and applying some of the new technologies to remote monitoring and the use of digital messages, will also make the sector much more efficient. By using care technology to replace some visits, where no personal care is provided, would reduce the logistical challenge and cost of getting staff to multiple locations for fleeting visits. For example, pop-in visits to remind a patient to take medication, or to provide reassurance that they are okay can be replaced with remotely monitored medication dispensing devices or phone calls from the person's allocated carer. While technology obviously can't replace all personal interaction and care, it can complement it and reduce the pressure on services.

I'd say that transforming services for over 65s represents the biggest opportunity in our healthcare system. The challenge is to develop a sustainable, reliable, system where the client / patient is in charge, and decides what help and when they need it. No more waiting for someone from the council to decide whether care-home or home care is the 'right' decision, no more only pre-scheduled care visits when the help may in fact be required 'out of hours'.

And as with any changes, it won't happen over night, but we have an opportunity to embrace Brexit and to take a fresh look at the home care sector and its current flaws. If we could break away from those that have made the sector low pay, low status and overall rather unattractive, and instead retain a motivated and secure workforce, regardless of nationality, we will hopefully end up with a great care sector that's much better placed to drive up quality and deal effectively with any challenges ahead.