Tania Mathias: Social care reform should be Johnson’s legacy as much as Brexit

6 Jul

Tania Mathias is an NHS doctor and former MP for Twickenham.

At the weekend Sir Simon Stevens deftly moved away from the problems during the current pandemic – that have led to NHS doctors protesting outside Downing Street, fears about the lack of PPE, and the paucity of testing – by commenting on the much needed reform of social care which had been highlighted well before SARS-CoV-2 had reached its human host.

Many clapped for the NHS at five o’clock on Sunday. Next year, if we have had progress in medical and social care integration, it could be a clap for NHSCARE.

Theresa May’s manifesto in 2017 addressed the need for social care reform, and we have had a Green Paper promised ever since. Now is a perfect rainbow: we need more people opting to work in the social care sector, and many people in retail and hospitality are facing the need to re-train and look for other jobs. If we can ride the wave of respect and current attention on the NHS, we can direct people seeking work to the care sector.

This year is the opportunity to give more status – financially and culturally – to jobs involving person-to-person care. Several Cabinet Ministers have spoken about the challenge of the fourth industrial revolution. High tech jobs are a dominant need in our society yet the often missed need is the “high touch” or empathetic jobs that are needed yet no artificial intelligence can mimic.

People do not need to have a calling or a vocation to be able to look after another human being who is in need of personal care. The new Job Centre mentors need to look to filling care jobs that also have a career structure to help the thousands of people who suddenly find themselves unemployed.

The Cavendish report addressed the need for a better career structure for care workers. Indeed, better training may have saved lives during this first pandemic peak. For example, who saw the images of the fire brigade workers training care workers how to put on PPE and wondered shouldn’t the care worker being the one to teach the fire brigade how to do this?

Care has been an overlooked career but now is a rainbow opportunity to bring a range of people from different life and job experiences into the care sector to fill vacancies. Instead of furlough, the Government could be subsidising the wages for people entering the care sector.

Longer term the Government could be encouraging companies to give their skills to the care sector. The Territorial Army is a template and now we have a chance to move some of the COVID-19 volunteers into a NHSCARE army, or rather NHSCARE family.

Sir Simon Stevens referenced Beveridge’s five evils. And I am told Margaret Thatcher kept a copy of Beveridge’s report in her famous handbag. I don’t care if that latter anecdote is true or not: the point is Thatcher cared deeply about the end to want, disease, ignorance squalor and idleness. A boost in recruitment in the care sector can address several of these issues at once.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s term of office was expected to be dominated by Brexit. A greater legacy will be a care sector fit for the next 72 years and integrated with a stronger NHS – the birth of NHSCARE. Thatcher would be proud methinks.