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Social care nursing is 'much more than giving out medication'


The role of the registered nurse in adult social care is marred by damaging myths that must be debunked in order to address workforce shortages, leaders in the sector have urged.

They said these myths included the belief that social care nurses spend their shifts giving out medication, their job is easy and a road to retirement, their skills are not transferable to the NHS, and they do not gain enough evidence and training to revalidate.

“A lot of acute nurses have the perception that we are not nurses”

Congress delegate

To help address these misconceptions, Skills for Care has developed a guide that sets out the responsibilities and contribution of registered nurses within social care.

Leaders from the charity, which is England’s strategic body for workforce development in adult social care, held a fringe session on their findings at the Royal College of Nursing congress today.

The number of nurses in adult social care has reduced from 51,000 five years’ ago to around 42,000 at present. The sector struggles with a 35% turnover rate and around 9% of posts are vacant.

Graham Woodham, head of regulated professional workforce at Skills for Care, told the session: “We are very concerned about 42,000 nurses and the workforce pressures on somewhere in the region of over 20,000 employers in our sector in terms of recruiting and retaining the right staff.”

Wendy Leighton, a registered nurse who helped develop the document, said one of the things that drove the work was the perception of nurses in social care.

She highlighted how the place for registered nurses in social care was due to become even more important with national commitments to look after more people with complex needs out of hospital.

A delegate in the gallery, who described themselves as a nurse in social care, said: “A lot of acute nurses have the perception that we are not nurses, or we’re nurses that can’t get into acute care. 

“But it’s not that, we choose to go into social care because not only do we get the nurse side, we get the social side of it,” she said. “It’s wonderful listening to histories, hearing about life stories, and putting that into person and I mean person-centred care.

“You can’t do that in acute, because the patients are in and out, you don’t get chance to build that relationship,” she noted.

A student nurse in the gallery said she had been taught “zero” about social care as part of her studies, and she assumed it was the same as community nursing.

“We are very concerned about the workforce pressures on employers in our sector”

Graham Woodham

She called on the Skills for Care team to consider sending representatives into universities to speak to students about social care nursing.

Another social care nurse who attended the session praised the speakers for their work in raising the profile of the role, adding: “We used to be the dirty secret that no-one talked about.”

Hilary Medway, a social worker who also worked on the project, said the description of the role included in the pamphlet was generic to encompass the broad range of areas covered by social care nurses including care homes, learning disabilities, homelessness and addiction.

“In putting this statement together I wanted to ensure we had a voice of all of those areas included,” said Ms Medway.

She noted that in many cases a social care nurse would act as a leader of the nursing service in their organisation, because they would be one of the only registered nurses in that team.

Skills for Care hoped to “get the word out” to more universities to encourage students to consider social care as a first destination career, Ms Medway added.

The session was presented with 10 myths about the role of a registered nurse in adult social care:

  • The role is easy
  • It’s a road to retirement
  • It’s for those who can’t get a “proper nursing job”
  • Social care de-skills nurses
  • It’s not academic enough
  • Social care nurses can’t get revalidated
  • They spend shifts giving out medication
  • People can’t train to be a nurse in adult social care
  • Nurses can’t go back to the NHS after social care work
  • Social care nurses don’t get a good pension

Readers' comments (2)

  • Completely agree I’ve been a social care nurse for 19 years and sometimes get looked down on by other nurses. We don’t have back up of doctors 24/7 we have to use strong clinical judgment to look after my 25 clients

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  • The Guide in the article captures the Registered Nurse Role in Social Care, very well.

    When Registered Nurses, who work in acute hospital settings, comment disparagingly about Registered/ Nurses who work in Social Care it betrays how little they truly know about the patient/client group; or perhaps how little they are truly interested.

    Does this amount also disrespecting patient & clients who recieve social care?

    Nursing is such a diverse profession it offers opportunities for Registered Nurses to apply their knowledge & skills & ability in nearly all walks of life. This is a strength that should/could bind us together.
    I only disrepect those who deliberately behave negligently, or worse.

    Apart from the harm they cause, wherever they may work, they tend to bring the rest of us into disrepute.

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