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Agency workers and the care sector

22-Apr-10
Article By: Richard Howard

Reform of the care system seems to be on the lips of all the main political parties, perhaps with the added incentive of courting the votes of a population that has never before had so many elderly citizens. Possible outcomes include the formation of a National Care Service, a National Dementia Strategy is already in place and free social care has been promised; though the funding of these schemes remains a chord of some discontent between local and central government especially.

Even if such promises turn out to be both sincere and feasible, however, it could be that structural reform fails to take account of more specific areas where, without better regulation, the same old problems could still occur with the same frequency. Care is an industry more reliant on temporary agency workers than any other; all providers have a massive demand for such services and yet benefit from no regulation whatsoever in relation to where their workers come from. Residential and nursing facilities themselves receive regular visits from Care Quality Commission inspectors, who look into all areas of health and safety, hygiene, medicine and administration, as well as the lifestyles and general comfort of those being cared for, but can we not further help care services by being more efficient at the source, making care workers as subject to checks and procedures as teachers and nurses are.

In recent years debates over all aspects of care have developed to encompass more than just its efficient practice and is part of a larger question of just how will the country emerge from a bleak economic climate while simultaneously achieving funding solutions to deal with the many questions an ageing population will ask. With such a large task ahead it would be a huge advantage to spot any simpler reforms that can be implemented as a matter of common sense and with relatively little expense, if indeed we can afford to discuss the plausibility of being able to fund a National Care Service at a time of economic mayhem.

With hard times ahead for the care industry one cold comfort could at least be that, with political parties recognising the value of the ‘grey vote’, any failure to allow care professionals to implement successful care practice could prove embarrassing for local authorities, quite probably also for central government. Parties will find it difficult to shake the fact that the issue of healthcare has been adopted amongst Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat election pledges, no matter how awkward the issue becomes. Relations between healthcare professionals and politicians will certainly be of increasing media interest over the next few years.

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