Times are changing for Social Care

The Covid-19 pandemic took everyone by surprise.  Lock-downs around the world forced people to work differently and, in some sectors, it led to complete shutdowns.  The essential services provided within Social Care had to continue. Workers had to ensure that the most vulnerable in our society were safe and healthy, while most offices were forced to close.

This forced sudden changes to operational models across the social care sector.  Many office-based staff were required to work from home, and the focus was concentrated on front-line service delivery.  National attention turned to the invaluable work of staff in the healthcare sector. As the crisis in care homes rose to prominence, the value of the social care workforce entered the public eye. The weekly “Clap For Carers” publicly recognised their dedication and compassion.

Just weeks before this, care workers were being overlooked in the draft Immigration Bill and defined as “low-skilled”.   The perception of social care staff, and how they are undervalued, is something discussed in the launch episode of our Aspirico Insights podcast.

Of course, the low pay rates in social care, as well the overall “breaking-point” status of the sector are symptomatic of chronic under funding. This has only been exacerbated by the pandemic.  It appears to have forced governments to reconsider social care structure and policies, but any lasting change is likely to take time. The impact of Covid-19 is likely to be here for a while and into the future.

The unexpected silver lining of Covid-19?

The rethink of operational service delivery models could well be taking on a more permanent consideration.  Aspirico have received a surge in enquiries from care and support providers, who are reconsidering how they deliver their services. Informal conversations with Aspirico customers indicate that reviews of operational structures and exploration of a longer-term redesign of services is already underway.

The primary consideration seems to be a realisation that offices require resources – both human and financial – but are not where care and support actually “happen”. What takes place in a building that requires heating, lighting, equipment, business rates, services and more can be achieved from an at home computer with internet connection.

Traditional organisational structures have largely been implemented to ensure effective monitoring of quality and compliance. The processes for which have also had to change dramatically.Even before the pandemic there were numerous pilots of new models of care.  In community services there have been various local trials of self-managing teams, based on the Dutch Buurtzorg model. The aim of which is to improve flexibility and responsiveness while focusing resources on point-of-delivery, rather than administrative and managerial structures.

Residential and accommodation-based services have been rolling out various forms of Technology Enabled Care (TEC) to improve monitoring and allow staff to focus on outcome-focused activity.

At commissioner level, Integrated Care System pilots are trialing a joined-up approach to localised, community services. This encompasses primary health services, social care providers, social prescribing, local community groups and voluntary services.

Innovation and Inclusion

As the sector begins to think about emerging from the pandemic and returning to something approaching “normality”, the general consensus seems to be that this does not mean returning to the previous status quo. There is a real opportunity for innovation and change.Key to this will be the use of technology.

Many of us have already attended meetings via conferencing platforms such as Zoom and GoToMeeting. Communication has largely been carried out over the internet, whether through email or systems such as MS Teams.

In addition to communication -essential in any model of care and support – the social care sector requires specific technological solutions to ensure effective care and support management.

Service Users must be placed at the heart of any service redesign or new model of care.  People supported should be included in consultations about new systems. Decisions about these new systems should ensure that people have control over their services. People supported should have the ability to communicate effectively, not just with their staff team but also management, family support and their wider circle-of-care.

Technological solutions can make processes more efficient. With live data, quality and compliance data can be monitored in real-time, enabling targeted responses to emergencies or issues. This fosters a culture of accountability and continuous improvement.

With technology “picking up the slack” in these areas, resources can be focused on where they are most effective – front-line service delivery.  By equipping staff with the right tools, they can be empowered to improve quality and effective care at the point-of-delivery.  After all, who is better placed to develop care and support plans with Service Users than those key workers who see them every day?

Real long-term change needs to be structural, starting with policy and funding from central and regional governments.  In the meantime, a combination of the incredible Social Care workforce, sector-specific technology and innovative service providers, gives the sector the opportunity and potential, to emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic with fresh ideas and new models of care and support.

Chris Tanner

Previous to joining Aspirico as the iplanit Client Director for U.K. and Ireland, Chris has experience as a Social Care Project Consultant. He also worked as Regional Operations Director & Registered Manager for  community, residential, supported living and complex care and support services.​