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Social Care & Coronavirus: The 'poor relation' - care in the community - needs your help

The coronavirus crisis is being presented as a health emergency, with scant acknowledgement of the fact that support at home is also critical to our survival.

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Photo by Claudio Schwarz (@purzlbaum) on Unsplash

Social care takes many forms, but home-based care and support is vital at this time to enable people to live safely in their own homes for as long as possible - and to enable hospitals to treat as many people as possible.

Most of those who fall ill will get better with the help of family, friends, a healthy diet and a good rest, but some rely on paid carers to help them recover. This pandemic highlights the fact that, despite a green paper on social care having been expected from central government for ten years, there is no recent national plan for how we meet the needs of those of us who cannot manage without support.

As a nation we make an unhelpful distinction between health and social services, such that many of us think the NHS is an essential and totemic element of our society, but 'social services' are a regrettable expense which is only used by those who have failed to live properly or are a drain on working people.

Coronavirus presents an opportunity to put this right; to see health and social care as two sides of the same coin - our collective wellbeing. The NHS can only work effectively if there is a healthy system for supporting those who are not well outside hospital. Social care cannot continue to be seen as the poor relation of health.

NHS hospitals can, as I write, test their staff for coronavirus. They can also test any person they decide to admit for treatment. NHS suppliers have procured all the available personal protective equipment nationally and are only now beginning to consider making some of those supplies available to social care services.

Providers of home care services are absolutely critical to preventing the need for hospital care and also to freeing up hospital beds for people who really need them. But they currently have no access to coronavirus testing for either the people who staff their services or the people who use them. Why?

In recent days there has been a heart-warming groundswell of offers to help vulnerable neighbours through newly-formed Mutual Aid groups and the national call for volunteers for the NHS has had a massive response. The monumental efforts of everyone within the NHS deserve constant praise and recognition, but if we put out a plea to support home help companies, would we get the same response? Why aren't we asking specifically for social care volunteers? Does the fact that social care was de-nationalised, and is thus largely profit-based, affect public perceptions?

Along with the need to collectively manage the risk of mass fatalities and the potential breakdown of our economic infrastructure in the coming months, we have thousands of people with time on their hands and an enhanced awareness of the difficulties that many in our society are facing. We need to use this to make change happen.

We need local and national government action which recognises the value of the care so many of us provide to friends and loved ones for free, as well as the value of the professional care our nation's heroic carers provide every day and every night.

But right now, more than anything, we need anyone who feels able to provide personal care or support to get in touch with any of the care companies in their area to offer their help. This is a tall order - social care roles are very demanding on time and on people's emotions and mental bandwidth - but the rewards are immense. Care providers have a phenomenal workforce with the personal commitment and resilience to keep giving.

If you feel attracted to care giving, with training and experience you will almost certainly be good at it. We need paid staff, who we train, and we need volunteers, who can provide a range of support and companionship.

Chris Kearton is a Director of Intercare Services, a Sheffield-based social care provider, and has previous experience as a social worker and manager in primary care.

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