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Uncertainty is the new norm


What is the impact on staff in the adult social care sector?

There is a temptation when the world around you is in a constant state of flux to hunker down and carry on with what you are doing, in the hope that calm will return in the fullness of time. I would suggest that those who are hoping for that in our current climate are in for a long and frustrating wait! What we are experiencing is a live manifestation of the proverb “there is nothing certain but the uncertain” and we need to understand that this uncertainty is impacting directly on both the provision of care and those that need it.

I am particularly keen in this article to look at how this impacts on staff at the front line of delivery, that are often left out of ‘strategic’ discussions focussing on how to manage within a complex external environment. Almost everything that happens outside of a care environment has an impact on one of the three core elements of care – either the people receiving services, the workforce or the funding available to operate services. Constructing a narrative that acknowledges this is key for organisations, and key for staff who may otherwise feel buffeted by unknown and unexplained forces. This is a skill that once learned, will be endlessly useful in supporting interpretation, and understanding of what is inside control and scope.

I am going to pick on three recent additions to the vortex of change to explore how this might work in practice. I want first of all to look at the ongoing work of the Competitions and Market Authority (CMA). For the majority of staff, this will be a complete unknown – a government department busy behind the scenes investigating the consumer experience of the older peoples’ residential market. However, throughout the year this research has led to a series of broadly ‘damning’ headlines about lack of transparency, unfair pricing and lack of choice within the market. This is being seen by families, residents and carers – as well as impacting on staff perceptions of self- worth. There is a final report due in early December, and providers who wish to manage that uncertainty for staff and residents will be ready to provide tools and evidence to support staff who may face the brunt of family challenge as to how they match up to the CMA recommendations for a more consumer facing set of services.

Let’s look now at the recent #metoo campaign which has again highlighted the widespread nature of sexual harassment, often within the workplace or work settings. Social care staff need an opportunity to speak out and be supported to challenge harassment when they either experience it themselves or witness it. Organisations might take very simple steps to acknowledge harassment can take place within a social care setting, recognising the dynamics may not be just between staff, but may also be happening between residents, or between staff and residents. Other organisations may offer confidential advice and support for staff to discuss current or previous harassment. For all organisations, a way of taking control of that external shift could be to use it as an opportunity to review, highlight or construct your own code of conduct about acceptable behaviour which respects everyone within your service.

Finally I want to look at an external change organisations that may change future funding of services. Brexit is an obvious, and of course complex agenda to unpick, however, organisations need to work hard with their staff to understand how changes happening now and in the near future may impact on the cost base within the organisation, and therefore the funding available to run services.  There are a number of obvious changes which will have hit some organisations hard – increased challenges in recruitment of EU national staff, and potential increase in use of agency staff. Secondly, the reduction in the value of the pound is impacting the cost of critical supplies to the service including uniforms, medical goods and food. The final impact is around the future uncertainty created in the stock market, and how this might affect investments and securities the company utilises to provide valuable additional income to the organisation. Without highlighting the potential impact of Brexit on cost, staff will be led to all sorts of conclusions about how this is down to organisational choice, poor management or indeed local authority action.

Understanding that uncertainty is here to stay is the first piece of the jigsaw. However, for those organisations who wish to thrive in this environment, it is key that they take the next step and equip their front line to understand, anticipate and work within that ever changing world.

Vic Rayner, Executive Director, National Care Forum @vicrayner

NCF is the national membership body for not-for-profit care and support providers. For more details on their work contact, @NCFcareforum


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