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Social care workforce crisis is failing people with dementia

(KeyWorded / Alamy Stock Photo)

4 min read

It’s been 11 months since the government published its Adult Social Care White Paper, People at the Heart of Care – and yet we still have precious little detail on how government will deliver vital reform for the social care workforce.

Last year, the government promised £500m to ensure the workforce has the ‘right training and qualifications, and feel recognized and valued for their skills and commitment'. But given the size of the workforce, this just won’t be enough, particularly as the government hasn’t pledged to increase pay, which is a key barrier to addressing challenges with staff recruitment and retention.

Population growth in over 65s means that 480,000 more social care staff will be needed by 2035. While vacancies continue to rise across all care settings, with 165,000 currently vacant posts (the highest on record), leaders in adult social care are bracing for the ‘most challenging year ever’.

Right now, around 900,000 people in the UK live with dementia, many with complex care needs. In the APPG on Dementia’s Workforce Matters report, published today with support from Alzheimer’s Society, we found that less than half of people affected by dementia said care staff actually understood dementia. Worryingly, two in five people told us care was not personalised to their needs, while one in five said it wasn’t personalised at all, meaning they can’t live the lives they want.

I’ve chaired the APPG since 2015, and have heard some shocking examples of poor care, from staff ignoring people living with dementia to allowing them to be assessed as incontinent because it was less time-consuming than helping them go to the toilet.

This is not the norm. The majority of care staff care deeply for people living with dementia, but they simply don’t have the time, resources and training to deliver the high-quality, personalised care people living with dementia need and deserve.

Every person living with dementia should be able to draw on care which supports them to do the things that matter most to them – from socialising with friends to continuing their favourite activities, allowing them to live more fulfilled and less fearful lives. This can only be achieved if the social care workforce is given the funding, training and resources to deliver on this.

Sadly, just one-third of people affected by dementia felt involved in the planning and delivery of their care. The APPG report emphasises that people affected by dementia desperately need a workforce with knowledge and understanding of their specialist needs, one which provides care that sees the whole person, and focuses on what matters to them. Care staff need the time to truly understand individuals, caring for the same people with dementia regularly and enabling the development of strong and trusting relationships.

With Rishi Sunak newly in-post as Prime Minister, and the 10-year plan for dementia forthcoming, there’s no better time to prioritise dementia and the social care workforce. In fact, over 26,000 Alzheimer’s Society campaigners have called on the new Prime Minister to do just that. For too long, people with dementia have been failed by a broken social care system which has left them enduring inadequate care. We need a People Plan centered around the needs of people who draw on social care, with the wants, needs and ambitions of people with dementia at its heart. Such a plan is about more than recruitment, and without it, there’s just no way to ensure the workforce is empowered and has the skills, time and resource to deliver the kind of care people affected by dementia need.

The plan must deliver concrete outcomes like mandatory training on dementia for all care staff, and an annual audit of workforce knowledge and skills. It’s also high time the government addressed the retention and recruitment crisis in social care, creating a skilled, sustainable and supported workforce.

By 2040, 1.6 million people will be living with dementia, meaning the condition will touch the lives of countless families across the UK. We have to get dementia care right, so that the workforce is ready for the future – and a People Plan is a sure-fire way to do just that.

Debbie Abrahams MP is Chair of the APPG on Dementia

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