Social care and staff training is the top skills priority and here’s why – Suzanne Gallagher

Suzanne Gallagher is Director of Curriculum and Operations at Leeds City College's Quarry Hill Campus, which forms part of Luminate Education Group.
Suzanne Gallagher is Director of Curriculum and Operations at Leeds City College's Quarry Hill Campus, which forms part of Luminate Education Group.
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THERE are currently nearly 12 million people aged 65 or above living in the UK, and this number is set to drastically increase in the not so distant future.

By 2030, one in five UK residents are expected to be aged 65 or over. However, in recent years, we have seen significant amounts of funding cut from adult social care budgets despite growing demand.

Social care is arguably Britian's greatest political challenge.

Social care is arguably Britian's greatest political challenge.

Alongside this growing number of elderly people comes a swelling need for medical and social care staff to support those with health conditions often suffered later in life.

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This is, of course, putting additional pressure on our health services and is why there is an ongoing need to boost recruitment and investment in training.

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What can be done to overcome the staffing shortage over social care?

What can be done to overcome the staffing shortage over social care?

Age UK estimates there are currently 1.5 million people in England who need some help with daily life, but do not receive it. Without this important help, our elderly population are increasingly likely to neglect their health and wellbeing, putting further pressure on A&Es across the country, and leaving hospitals struggling to let patients return home until an ongoing care plan is in place.

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In Leeds, we have a range of fantastic GP practices, hospitals and organisations providing care to those in need across our communities and a recent report from Leeds City Council highlighted the work being undertaken to focus on recruiting, retaining and supporting the nursing workforce.

At Leeds City College, we have already seen the benefit of the work being driven by the Leeds Health & Care Academy and Leeds Academic Health Partnership. However, this report also emphasised that the recruitment of nurses and care staff is simply not keeping pace with our ageing society.

Now that we have a new government in place, we are calling on the elected political leaders to place social care at the top of the domestic policy agenda and commit to developing skills to meet future workforce demand.

Our care system needs immediate attention and long-term reform, and our approach to recruiting, retaining and supporting the caring workforce must be part of that. We believe there are several areas to focus on.

Firstly, following the introduction of the apprenticeship levy in 2017, we have already seen a surge in the number of employers supporting these training programmes.

However, we must ensure a strong partnership across the social care sector, NHS and academic institutions in Leeds to ensure apprenticeships are designed to provide the right training and experience aligned with reality and students’ future careers.

At Leeds City College’s new Quarry Hill Campus, we have introduced a replica practical care suite, which gives students studying health science and social care a realistic experience of their future working environment and the surroundings they would encounter in the world of work.

Furthermore, supporting adult learning will be crucial in meeting the growing skills demand. Social care roles are extremely popular with older generations, with almost half of all current care staff aged over 45, and offer opportunities for those looking to kick-start a new career or return to education to move into an extremely valuable sector.

However, we also need to encourage more young people into social care roles, namely to ensure we don’t end up with a skills gap in years to come, when a large proportion of our current workforce seek retirement.

At Luminate Education Group, we have developed a bespoke Adult and Community Provision to give adult learners the support they need to re-enter education, including childcare services, wellbeing support, additional financial backing and learning resources. It is important that further education institutions make it as easy as possible for adult learners to progress social care careers.

These are the big areas for action, and if we are to achieve the ambitions to tackle the social care skills shortage, they must be developed alongside an ongoing commitment to expanding social care provision and investment into our NHS.

Without investment in training and recruitment, future generations will continue to suffer the effects of care shortages for years to come, painting a very bleak picture. Whilst these changes won’t solve the problems of today, they will give the sector a fighting chance of addressing the challenges of tomorrow.

Suzanne Gallagher is Director of Curriculum and Operations at Leeds City College’s Quarry Hill Campus, which forms part of Luminate Education Group.