We can no longer just promise to listen to and hear their voices. Their views must be represented more effectively so that their needs – improved working terms and conditions and pay, education and training, resources, support and advice, changes in policy, whatever it may that they say they need representation on – can be met.
Their collective voice has grown in strength during the last four months – on social media, in the press, on TV and radio. That has happened, in part at least, because the spotlight has been on care homes due to the politicisation of the crisis that has affected the sector so disproportionately. It is right that commissioners and providers of social care have a place to influence the policy agendas but, as yet, I have seen no evidence that care home staff have, or will have greater influence with politicians and policymakers about the future of the sector. They are, however, well placed to help set the agenda for change thanks, I believe, to their unique position as care givers and their relationship with residents and their families and friends.
The RCN reacted to this increased focus on care homes in every area of our activity over the last four months. Across the UK we’ve lobbied governments and politicians about personal protective equipment (PPE), testing for staff and residents, and on pay for COVID-19-related absence and death in service benefits. We’ve commented frequently in the media on problems and solutions, published regular blogs highlighting particular issues, and posted almost daily on social media. And we’ve responded direct to enquiries from individual members working in care homes.
It sounds a lot but I’m not sure it’s enough. And we cannot look away now simply because the spotlight has moved on to something else, like the economy.
In 2019 the RCN began working on a new approach to representing our members who work in the independent sector, including care homes. The pandemic has really clarified the need for a new approach. Those members have been telling us for some time that the way we work to meet the needs of our members is too focused on the NHS - the model is not fit for purpose for other sectors. Too often in the past when we have tried to address the problem, the focus has been on what is lacking, what prevents more effective representation.
For example, all RCN members receive individual representation, but members working in the independent sector generally do not enjoy the benefits of collective bargaining, around pay terms and conditions, or policy development. That is a problem for all of us who claim to have a stake in the sector and speak on behalf of staff.
How to represent the views of care home staff more effectively will require radical solutions – the RCN is committed to effecting real change for our members in the sector. But it’s not just a problem for the RCN and we will all be required to work together to effect real, lasting change.