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Exclusive: Social care must fix its ‘brand problem’, say sector leaders

Woman in care home.


Social care has a ‘brand problem’ which needs to be fixed if it is going to attract more funding, resources and staff in the future, leaders in the sector have warned.

At an online social care roundtable hosted by Nursing in Practice last week, the panel argued social care is not seen as equal to the NHS by the public, Government and other healthcare workers. This is despite the extra attention gained because of the sector’s struggles during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Around £36bn is expected to be gained over the next three years from the recently announced health and social care levy, but only £5.4bn is earmarked for social care in England which highlights the perception problem, Liz Jones, policy director of the National Care Forum (NCF) told the panel.

She said: ‘Social care, overall, has a brand problem… It’s called the health and social care levy, but only £5bn is going to social care, so we’ve got a problem. And we’ve got to think about how we explain our value to the public who have yet to have to use or rely on our services.

‘How do we support these people to think that social care is just as important as GPs or the hospital down the road? That’s the challenge,’ she added.

Many panellists also described a negative perception of social care among nurses, who did not see the sector as an attractive career option – particularly compared to hospitals.

Jana Harris, head of operations (care) at Hafod in Wales, said: ‘Working in social care is not attractive because it’s not promoted well enough. It’s seen as the lesser sibling of hospital care because you haven’t got all the resources and you haven’t got the same amount of training as you do in hospital.’

Louse Brady, clinical development lead at the Royal British Legion care homes, called for a ‘strategic branding and marketing campaign’ showcasing the sector as a career option: ‘We need to hear from frontline nurses about the complexity of end-of-life care, wound care and the work they do.’

But Louis Holmes, policy officer at Care England, pointed out that the challenge of the upcoming months across social care may more widely demonstrate the importance of social care nursing.

He said: ‘This winter, and the fact that nurses are leaving the care sector at a very speedy rate will unfortunately have an impact on the NHS – and demonstrate to the public and the Government the crucial role they have.’

The comments come amid concerns about recruitment and retention, with a 12.3% vacancy rate among care home nurses reported in October 2020. Making Covid-19 jabs mandatory for care home staff from 11 November is also already worsening staff shortages, unions have warned.

Roundtable attendees also argued care home placements for student nurses could boost recruitment to the sector, as covered last week by Nursing in Practice.

Also attending the roundtable was Simon Bottery, senior fellow in social care at the King’s Fund; George Coxon, care home owner and Nursing in Practice blogger; Mark Bird, RCN transformational lead for the independent health and social care sector;  Suzy Webster, care home network manager at Age Cymru; Swaran Rakhra, member support manager at Scottish Care; Margot Whittaker, director of nursing for Southern Healthcare Nursing Homes in Devon; and QNI chief executive Dr Crystal Oldman.