Northern Ireland social care ‘collapsing in slow motion, report warns
The social care system in Northern Ireland is “collapsing in slow motion”, an expert panel warned yesterday.
In a major report, Des Kelly and John Kennedy — members of the Expert Advisory Panel on Adult Care and Support — said that “maintaining the status quo is not an option” and called for radical reform.
The report — Power to People: Proposals to Reboot Adult Care and Support in NI — says that where a person could afford to contribute to the cost of a service they should do so and that “the principle should be applied consistently and equitably across all adult social care models”.
That raised the possibility of people paying for domiciliary care, which is currently free.
The co-authors also suggested that a living wage should be adopted to raise the pay of social care workers.
Staff receive among the lowest rates in the labour market and that produces an undervalued workforce and high turnover, they said.
“Care work is highly skilled. To be good at it you need a high degree of emotional intelligence, negotiating skills and kindness in spades. Yet we surround care workers in a mire of paperwork and suspicion.
“Care workers receive amongst the lowest wages in the labour market: in short, a low-paid, high-turnover and undervalued workforce is a poor way to ensure the quality of care we demand.”
It said a living wage should be paid as a first step to recognising it as a professional workforce.
The Government’s hourly living wage for those aged over 25 is set at £7.50.
In the longer term the report said the vision should be to equalise pay and conditions across the social care workforce.
It added: “We need a new model, one which recognises and builds on the skills and experience of staff by empowering them to make decisions and create a more human and relationship-centred ethos into social care.”
Every year health and social care trusts spend more than £900m on adult social care including services like day care, domiciliary care, residential care and nursing home care.
The report noted growing demand and a limited menu of support which fails to recognise changing needs and expectations means there will be an ever widening gap between what is available and what is needed.
The report made 16 proposals, including putting the rights of family carers on a legal footing and devising a strategy to bring them into the heart of the transformation of adult care and support.
Responding, Chief Social Worker Sean Holland said: “It is clear that, to remain sustainable, adult care and support services will have to undergo significant change.
“Those changes are best considered within the context of system-wide transformation in line with the 10-year plan for health and social care transformation, set out in ‘Health and Wellbeing 2026, Delivering Together’.”
Mr Holland said that the department would discuss the way forward with stakeholders, before developing an action plan.
Carolyn Ewart, country manager of the Northern Ireland Association of Social Workers (NIASW) said there were extreme pressures in the system and the first step in showing leadership was calling for the necessary resources to be made available.
She said: “This is vital if people who rely on social care, and their families, are to be provided with the assistance they need to live independently and with dignity.
“Central to the delivery of high quality services is enabling staff to spend meaningful time with service users, paying heed to their emotional as well as their physical needs.”
Ms Ewart added: “The needs of users of social care should be the top priority of all involved and we urgently require political leadership to take the tough decisions needed to deliver a social care system to be proud of.”
Duane Farrell, deputy director of Age NI said: “We call on our decision-makers and political leaders to make reform of social care a priority and on the Department of Health to respond as a matter of urgency to the significant challenges outlined in the report."