Witnesses giving evidence to the Scottish Affairs Committee at Westminster this afternoon have described as ‘deeply offensive’ any suggestion that staff working in care homes are low skilled simply because they are poorly paid.
Director of the Royal College of Nursing in Scotland, Theresa Fyffe, told MPs it is becoming increasingly evident, against a background of shortages of nurses across every sector, that the NHS will recruit every registered nurse it can find – often at the expense of social care.
“It goes back to the value of working in social care. Your career is not seen as being developmental if you are there. So, people will, without necessarily understanding that they can get an excellent experience within the care home sector, think that they should go for the NHS.
“We need to turn that around because, frankly across the UK in all four countries, if we do not address this, we will have an acute shortage within social care provision and sadly it will be the most vulnerable in our society that will pay the price.”
Ms Fyfe paid tribute to care workers, who she said were undervalued:
“I am shocked that we equate a lower salary as somehow low skill. So, if you are paid more you look like you have us higher skill.
“In fact, if you have ever experienced the care of a care worker team working with registered nurses in end-of-life care of somebody, I would defy anyone to say that that is low skill. That is the most fundamental point of somebody’s life, their end-of-life.”
Another witness, Wilma Brown, Employee Director at NHS Fife and a lay activist with UNISON said if there is an extreme shortage of staff in care homes, then the impact will be felt by the NHS as there will be nowhere else to care for vulnerable people. She called for an end to this situation where some care homes can find themselves unattractive places to work.
“The NHS is better paid with better conditions, so people are drawn there, as they are to the councils from the private sector, because the terms and conditions get better with the different services. It should be the same. We shouldn’t have what we have right now. We have to have consistency of what people are paid and their terms and conditions.”
Responding to a question on the decision not to include care workers from abroad in the new health and care visa programme – and statements from the UK Migration Advisory Committee suggesting that better social care workforce planning was more important than keeping the doors open to people from other countries, the Chief Executive of Scottish Care Dr Donald Macaskill said defining social care as being of low skill is deeply offensive.
“They are insulting those who have quite literally put their lives on the line for the preservation of life and the protection and dignity of older people.
“To come up with sentiments and statements that define the work of care as being of low skill, of low-level, is a complete failure to realise the empathy, compassion, that the giving and bestowing of dignity of one to another, are just as valued skills to society as any high-level, high-paid role.
“We are deeply concerned about the proposals about immigration. The care sector in Scotland has been enriched by the contribution of citizens from across the world and it is deeply troubling that, at a time at which we need to rebuild, we need to consolidate, to diversify and build an even stronger workforce, that door has been shut to us.”
As part of its enquiry into the pandemic in Scotland, the Scottish Affairs Committee was taking evidence on the UK and Scottish governments’ handling of care homes, testing and PPE during the coronavirus crisis, as well as concerns around staffing and overseas recruitment.