Social care offers a life line for individuals who wish to stay at home, and for those who need the additional support that a residential or nursing home can offer. Statistically, the number of those people who need support with Dementia is growing rapidly. At the same time, we are also experiencing significant crisis in the recruitment and retention of a workforce to meet these ever changing needs. Skills for Care, the sector skills body for adult social care, approximates that on any given day there is a vacancy rate in the sector equivalent to trying to fill Wembley Stadium! Alongside this, we know that it is increasingly essential for the workforce within services to be ready and able to support people living with dementia. In some recent research carried out by Carterwood on residential care homes, with and without nursing, they identified that over 30% of homes now have designated dementia units, with an average number of beds in each unit amounting to 27. In addition, we know that many people will continue to live at home and with recent research from the Alzheimer’s society suggests that there are over 400,000 with dementia in receipt of homecare.
All of this provides us with some insight into the complexity of having a workforce ready with the skills, expertise, time and commitment to supporting people to live well with dementia, and their families. Where do employers start with bringing together a workforce that is sufficiently flexible, responsive and skilled to meet individual’s needs, and how do they keep their knowledge and expertise upto date?
Of course, there are a range of different roles within services that will require different solutions. Where care settings have a nursing component, then they have a particular set of challenges, particularly in areas where they may be competing for staff in a very tight employment market. Again, recent research by Carterwood into the availability of Registered Nurses (RNs) demonstrates the widespread geographical differentials that exist across the UK. The ratio of nurses to dementia beds fluctuates between an average of just over 4 RNs per dementia bed to a little over 1.5 RNs per dementia bed in some parts of the country – with little more than fifty miles between them. Attracting nurses into social care is clearly a key component of effective residential dementia care. Organisations in the sector work hard to help nurses understand the key benefits of working within a residential environment, which in some recent insight work with nurses included greater autonomy, more opportunities to use management skills, facilitating excellent end of life care and more.
In addition to nurses, both residential and home care will share in the challenge of attracting excellent care staff who are ready and able to support people with dementia to live as independently as possible. Skilling up staff is an ongoing element of all care providers work. Skills for Care provide a wide range of excellent resources to help providers to develop their staff teams, and these include specialised learning programmes for a range of levels of care workers, and access to free e learning resources. Homecare staff came under the spotlight in recent report by the Alzheimer’s Society which provided a stark picture of the lack of knowledge exhibited by some homecare staff, and the core impact this was having on people’s ability to live well with dementia. Developing staff with the right skills and experiences is a fundamental priority for the social care sector, and once trained and developed, sustaining them in role.
As our understanding of how to support people to live well with dementia increases, so does the realisation that the support needed for individuals may differ based on the needs that might arise from people identifying as part of a specific community. The Dementia Action Alliance have turned their attention to this and have just launched a new campaign, entitled ‘Seldom Heard Voices’ supporting better understanding, and critically better action to support individuals. This brings profile to a number of groups that do not generally get focus in discussions around dementia including people with learning disabilities, members of the Black and Minority Ethnic community, those who identify as Lesbian Gay, Bisexual and Transgender and people within the prison community. In all of these areas, the campaign has consulted with experts including those living with dementia, who have identified that the skills and knowledge of the workforce are essential. They recognise, for example, that when supporting someone with a learning disability and dementia, staff need to be trained both to help people with a learning disability and to work with someone with dementia.
So what does all this mean for the workforce of the future? It is clear that the skill set of those working in this field will need to continue to grow. Whilst this can be viewed as an additional hurdle, it also brings great value to the sector as an employer, by enabling it to demonstrate the diverse, demanding and rewarding world that those caring and supporting people living well with dementia operate within. It is helps build that very rich picture of the social care workforce highlighting the critical role it plays in ensuring that not only the health needs of individuals are met – but also their community and holistic needs.
Vic Rayner, Executive Director, National Care Forum
Mobile: 0771 567 1635 | @vicrayner