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The chief nurse role could herald a new dawn in adult social care

George Coxon, author.

I’m no naysayer. I’m an optimist and enthusiast. There have been some dubious opinions and doubt over the Government’s announcement to start recruiting for an adult social care chief nurse next month. An announcement that was made as part of the Department of Health and Social Care’s ‘adult social care winter plan’.  But I feel very excited about this new role.

Social care nursing, and indeed social care full stop, needs an elevated, but also discreet, voice to raise the status of us all in social care land.

This could herald a new dawn. However, for me – and many others – to keep seeing this as a positive appointment it must come with a few ‘essentials’.  Let me elaborate. 

We really need to have frontline, respected people from social care having an influence on this appointment. This is the message I have been driving home at a number of national forum links I have attended recently.  This includes at the newly formed Care Home Quality Improvement Network, parliamentary advisory groups on social care and most recently an advisory group feeding into the Social Care Taskforce. People who work in the sector need to have a say on who the new appointee will be; a person who will help steer the social care workforce through the challenges of this difficult winter and beyond.  

A report from the King’s Fund think-tank this week pointed out ‘there are high levels of vacancies for nursing in social care’. It pointed out in adult social care in England, the registered nurse vacancy rate before the Covid-19 pandemic was 12%, and the registered nurse was one of the only job roles in adult social care to see a significant decrease (30%) since 2012/13. It is, therefore, vital a top priority on day one for the new chief nurse is a reliable ‘stocktake’ of social care nurses in England. They need to find out, for example, just how many social care nurses we really have in England. Mike Adams, England director of the RCN, was reported recently saying it was 36,000 but Skills for Care have said it is more likely 42,000. Which is it?

I also believe the job plan should include the word ‘inspiration’.  It would be more important than any other word in the job plan , and I’ve rarely heard it in these testing pandemic-dominated days. But social care work so much needs uplifting in status and spirits, so I will be repeating it ad nauseum – inspiration, inspiration, inspiration. Please – it is ever so important to this role. 

It is also so important to define and promote the positive and attractive differences between an NHS nurse and a social care role. The social care nurse role offers a breadth of special interest knowledge, the ability to get to know the people we care for and, crucially for me, we have fun with those we look after.  

As a nurse running non-nursing care homes in Devon and reflecting on the fact that social care nursing isn’t just about nursing homes (about a third of residential care homes are nursing homes), I need to say –  social care isn’t just about nursing homes.  It’s not even just about residential care – there are 1.6m people that work across social care and nursing must, and does, feature in all aspects. The new chief nurse must recognise and attend to this. 

But, as the adage goes, ‘nothing about us without us’. Meaning the Government must engage with us – progressive, dynamic and enthusiastic nurses working in social care – in the creation of this new role. It has the potential to be a new dawn for the sector. But we need to do it together to do it well.