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Social care needs equal priority if health service challenges are to be beaten

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Last week I attended an event to discuss the challenges facing the social care sector and how best to raise awareness of them in the media.

Organised by Care England, the Westminster event stimulated some interesting discussions among the attendees and got me thinking more about the issues facing nursing in the sector.

It was well timed, as it coincided with the appeal court ruling that care workers who are paid to sleep at their workplace in case they are needed overnight do not qualify for the minimum wage.

By chance, it was also the day of the protests in Parliament Square against Donald Trump, so I had the added bonus of seeing the ‘baby blimp’ on my way back to the office.

But, on a serious note, what struck me was the need to include the social care sector and its nurses in all discussions about NHS pressures, which does not always happen.

The general public and the national media think they understand the NHS, with its familiar branding and hospitals – though of course they often don’t, especially when it comes to community services.

“The conveyer belt of referrals, admissions and discharges cannot operate if there are no social care services to provide support.”

However, with its diaspora of care homes, home care providers and other vital services, social care seems to be just too challenging for many to get a handle on.

But without these services, the rest of the system grinds to a halt. The conveyer belt of referrals, admissions and discharges cannot operate if there are no social care services to provide support.

This point was reinforced to me last night while watching an old episode of the BBC series Hospital, in which staff at St Mary’s in London were constantly frustrated by a total lack of beds due to an absence of social care packages.

The struggling sector desperately needs more funding and more staff, as well as a whole host of other improvements and reforms, or it will slide further into crisis.

A lot of hope, of course, is being placed on the government’s delayed social care green paper – but that will essentially be a discussion document that lacks the teeth of an actual policy white paper.

The NHS is set to receive its much-heralded extra funding but what of social care? The NHS money, while desperately needed, is unlikely to solve systemic problems, for example in winter, if social care is not given an equal boost.

“The chronic lack of nursing staff in the social care sector seems to have largely escaped media attention”

Meanwhile, much has rightly been made of the huge shortage of nurses in healthcare – both inside and outside the NHS – but the chronic lack of nursing staff in the social care sector seems to have largely escaped media attention.

These two sectors go hand in hand, and neither can make real progress unless the other keeps up. I, for one, will try to remember to raise the challenges facing social care when asked about NHS pressures. I urge others to do the same.

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