Central government’s understanding of social care is “better than it’s ever been”, according to leaders in the sector.
Speaking during the recent Virtual Care Festival, provider CEOs and council leaders said the government’s support for social care at the start of the pandemic was “too slow” and officials had to be “educated” on how their services work.
But they argued that since the crisis hit, ministers have become “very interested” in the sector and have “opened up channels of discussion” with organisations like United Kingdom Homecare Association (UKHCA) and the Care Provider Alliance to help inform them.
Darren Stapelberg, CEO of Grosvenor Health & Social Care, said: “If you look specifically at central government support, the fact they needed frontline specialists to inform them in the early stages creates the question ‘how come our Department of Health or Public Health England doesn’t have an understanding of social care?’ They should, but once you got past that point, it was quite encouraging, from a large providers’ point of view, to see them quickly open up channels of discussion to help guide them.
“They didn’t seem shy in coming forward and getting the right specialist views. It took us time, but those channels of communication have been opened up, and the awareness of social care is something that we need to make sure that we build on going forward. Central government’s understanding of what social care is, is better than it’s ever been.”
Sophie Chester-Glyn, director at community interest company Coproduce Care, agreed: “It was really frustrating that we almost had to educate leaders on how social care services work. However, there is a lot of learning that’s going on, and adjustment based on that learning. Organisations like UKHCA and Care England are really trying to help ministers understand social care and how we support the whole community.”
Glen Garrod, executive director of Adult Care and Community Wellbeing at Lincolnshire County Council, argued that the government’s understanding of social care is almost aligned with that of the NHS.
He said: “A lot of government departments have become very interested, all of a sudden, in social care, and are understanding how it is working. In the past, I think it’s fair to say that ministers have been less interested in understanding that and much more focused on the NHS. That’s begun to become more balanced.”
But Garrod argued that there is a “danger” of an “over focus” on one area of social care, to the detriment of others.
“My worry is that there has been a focus on residential care, almost at the expense of home care, which, in our world, is the bigger number by far,” he said.
Raina Summerson, CEO of community care provider Agincare, said it was “disappointing” that the government wasn’t “better prepared” for the pandemic and that there was a “lack of understanding” about social care at the start of the crisis.
“From our point of view, we saw that tiered approach – the NHS came first and social care came behind, but then, within social care, care homes got priority because they were better understood, followed by home care, extra care and supported living,” she added.
But Summerson agreed with the rest of the panel that the tides are now beginning to turn.
“What Darren said about the raising of awareness is spot on. If you heard the likes of Jeremy Hunt speaking in a room two or three years ago, it was all about the NHS, and social care being there as a feeder for the NHS,” she said.
“We’re now seeing him as a very passionate advocate for social care, having sat and listened to evidence from frontline team members, the voluntary sector, people using services and their relatives. So I think that voice is coming through thicker and stronger for home care, and for people using services.”