Health and wellbeing guidance for care workers needed in UK social care reform | Imperial News

A nurse caring for an elderly patient

The health and wellbeing needs of social care workers must be brought in line with standards set for NHS workers as part of UK social care reform.

These are the conclusions of a commentary from public and occupational health experts at Imperial College London, published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine.

The authors say that national occupational health guidance for the care sector is needed to bring social care in line with policies for the NHS. This could include immunisation programmes to minimise risks of infectious diseases (such as shingles) to staff and patients, and mental health support to workers dealing with the emotional burden of care. 

Carers need avenues for support, standards for dealing with periods of workforce illness and policies tackling absenteeism and presenteeism Dr Lara Shemtob School of Public Health

They explain that in addition to protecting social care staff in their workplaces and their patients, such reforms could help to improve workforce wellbeing and mental health, as well as strengthen the appeal of social care work for recruitment.

According the researchers, it is currently impossible to understand what is happening across the fragmented care sector with respect to workforce health and wellbeing.

There are an estimated 17,700 different organisations providing care in the sector. Just like healthcare workers, social care workers frequently treat patients at their most vulnerable. However, unlike the NHS where top-down policies set out standards and support for workforce health, there is currently no unifying guidance for the social care sector.

The government has pledged to use the new Health and Social Care Levy to improve training and support in the care sector, as well as bring an end to the high costs of care faced by those who need it.

‘Avenues for support’

The authors say there is a need to improve the infrastructure around workforce heath in care, from an immunisation programme to protect both carers and patients, to support with the emotional burden of dealing with mentally unwell or distressed patients and the physical demands of personal care.

“Carers need avenues for support, standards for dealing with periods of workforce illness and policies tackling absenteeism and presenteeism”, said lead author Dr Lara Shemtob, Honorary Clinical Research Fellow at the School of Public Health, Imperial College London.

Dr Shemtob added: “Carers delivering care at the bottom of the organisational hierarchy are least protected. With no carer unions or professional bodies and workforce health and wellbeing falling outside of the CQC’s remit, a national approach to standards and audit is necessary to protect carers and those they care for.”

In a recent survey of the adult social care workforce, over 70% of care providers reported increasing challenges in recruiting and retaining staff and maintaining staff morale.

“The importance of baking occupational health into social care reform is twofold”, said Dr Shemtob. “Firstly, the fragmented sector needs cohesive guidance around workforce health to protect staff and patients. Secondly, improving workforce wellbeing and strengthening the appeal of social care work will go some way to tackling the recruitment crisis.”

Why workforce health should have a place in UK care reform’ by Lara Shemtob and Kaveh Asanati is published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. (DOI: 10.1177/01410768221090673)

This article is based on materials from the The Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine (JRSM).

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