Health-tech sector can prosper from UK’s commitment to unleash potential of data

UK Healthcare

The role of digital data in the UK’s healthcare systems is set to gain newfound recognition and clarity when the government unveils its Data Saves Lives strategy this spring. If it lives up to its promise, the plan will help to drive the efficiency and effectiveness of data infrastructure and promote interoperability, while establishing clear and open standards for safely sharing data.

The backdrop to the new strategy is the tumult caused by the pandemic, and the ensuing acceleration of digital trends. The government now wants to build on the momentum which has been established in the push towards digital transformation. Similar exercises can be seen elsewhere in Europe, such as in Germany, which is set to invest €59 billion into healthcare technology and digitalisation in the rush to improve services.

While the UK’s strategy is primarily focused on the internal workings of the national healthcare system, the implications are positive for all healthcare technology organisations which have demonstrated a commitment to data safety and security. It means they are well-placed, both technically and culturally, to support the NHS on its journey.

Encouraging innovation

On reading the draft document, what is most encouraging is the focus on supporting innovators – those most likely to be responsible for developing and delivering new solutions to benefit both healthcare professionals and patients. The new strategy is set to provide a clear set of standards for those creating or deploying new data-driven technology.

“We find ourselves in the middle of a very exciting time in the digital development of healthcare in the UK.” Joost Bruggeman, Siilo messenger co-founder

This commitment to creating an innovation-friendly environment, with a framework for testing, approval and deployment, can be the catalyst for continuous improvement in the technologies used by healthcare professionals. It will provide the confidence to support investment, rather than the hit-and-miss, rather opportunistic nature of the current environment.

Joost Bruggeman, CEO of co-founder of Siilo

As CEO and co-founder of Siilo, a healthcare specific digital communications tool, I understand the fine line that the Government needs to walk.  On the one hand, it needs to build on the huge opportunities that new technologies present by keeping its doors open to innovation – doors which opened because of the challenges brought by the pandemic. But on the other hand, the Government needs to regulate and manage the relentless growth of new technologies.

Covid-19 played a part in Siilo’s own pathway into the UK healthcare market, due to the urgent need for rapid, reliable communication and information sharing. The other issue which facilitated Siilo’s entry was a series of daunting ransomware attacks in the UK, which prompted hospital boards to take preventive measures on all digital aspects of healthcare, pushing data security to the forefront, and seeing hospitals reject unsafe commercial messenger apps that posed a threat to data safety.

Siilo’s image ‘edit’ function allows users to blur and anonymise information and point out specific details on an image using the ‘Arrow’ tool

Without these driving factors, there is no doubt that Siilo’s route into the UK healthcare sector would have been far more difficult, especially as a tech company from outside the UK. So now that the panic of the pandemic is subsiding, the Data Saves Lives strategy is aiming to create an environment which is conducive to technological innovation, at a level which is appropriate for the NHS.

This is a significant challenge because oversight boards have to make decisions on topics and technologies that they may not be familiar with. Conversely, technology often develops so quickly that in vast structures such as the NHS, conducting a swift quality assurance and compliance strategy, as well as putting new regulations in place, is far more easily said than done.

Siilo’s Messenger App allows patients and healthcare professionals to communicate instantly

Siilo looks at the proposed strategy with great anticipation, while at the same time. understanding how things work in the real world. There’s unlikely to be a perfect solution, but that doesn’t mean that innovators should sit and wait until everything becomes more crystalised. It is the responsibility of the technology sector to interact with healthcare providers and the NHS, so we can hold up our side of any mutual agreement.

In short, it is also our job to provide clear data on our services so that decision makers have a good understanding of what we bring to the table, how we work, and how we can contribute to the NHS’s future aspirations and security regulations. And the sector should welcome any opportunities for dialogue, for we find ourselves in the middle of a very exciting time in the digital development of healthcare in the UK.

Joost Bruggeman is a former surgery resident at Amsterdam University Medical Centre and now CEO and co-founder of Siilo – Europe’s largest medical messenger app. For more information, please visit

News, Partners, Upcoming Events

One week to go until The Healthcare Show opens its doors

The Healthcare Show

CloserStill Media, organisers of The Healthcare Show, taking place at ExceL London on 18-19 May 2022, are delighted to announce that over 3,000 healthcare professionals are registered to attend the largest, senior gathering of UK healthcare leaders.

Don’t miss out on your chance to attend The Healthcare Show, two days full of opportunities to increase your industry knowledge through CPD accredited content and to network with both old and new peers and learn about the latest products and services. Bringing thousands of senior healthcare managers and clinicians together who are striving to transform care and improve quality against a backdrop of Covid-19, it’s an event not to be missed.

Healthcare professionals can secure their free tickets online here

The Healthcare Show are extremely excited to open their doors again this year with a variety of new theatres and a fully booked exhibition hall. You will have ample prospects to develop professionally and examine the effects of Covid-19 within the healthcare sector.

Show highlights:

  • Louise Minchin, broadcaster and journalist, to chair the Healthcare Keynote Theatre
  • Co-located with the Digital Healthcare Show and The Residential & Home Care Show
  • Incorporating The National Association of Link Workers Conference and Awards Ceremony
  • Brand new theatres for The Healthcare Show 2022 include the Transformation Theatre, Clinical Priorities Theatre and Care Quality and Efficiency Theatre
  • Incorporating The Patient Safety and Infection Prevention Show
  • Patient Safety Learning Partner Lounge will offer a platform to share a combination of tools, resources, case studies and best practice
  • Meet CQC inspectors across health and social care at their Meet the Inspectors Hub and put all your burning questions to them

The programme is available to view here (subject to change).

Sponsorship is also now also open for the event. Should you wish to sponsor, speak or exhibit at The Healthcare Show please contact Mike Corbett on:

For delegate enquiries, please contact Imogen Scott on

New digital maternity pathway goes live in Devon

TPP's maternity software in action

TPP SystmOne Maternity technology goes live at Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation, digitising the entire maternity pathway, from ante to postnatal care.

This week, Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust have gone live with TPP SystmOne Maternity. The system has enabled the Trust to digitise their entire maternity pathway, from antenatal through to postnatal care. It is being used by all midwives in the region, including those based at the hospital and those working in the community. More than 2,500 women will benefit from the new system every year, with their maternity care now centred on a complete, integrated digital care record.

Following the go-live, midwives now have instant access to all of the maternity data they need. For example, midwives working in postnatal care can easily view all antenatal care and delivery details. All medical and nursing notes are captured in a single record. This provides staff with the information required to make the best clinical decisions and improve safety for mothers and babies. Advanced functionality in the system is also supporting staff with the management of more complex pregnancies, through enhanced clinical decision support, alerts, and a complete maternity timeline.

TPP maternity
TPP SystmOne Maternity in use at Torbay Hospital

There has been strong clinical engagement throughout the project, from midwives, doctors and nurses. The teams have used TPP’s powerful Clinical Development Kit (CDK) functionality to develop exactly the data entry templates and visualisations they wanted. All staff members can quickly capture the information they need for a complete antenatal, labour, delivery and postnatal record. The Trust have also used CDK functionality to create customised safeguarding content, helping to support and protect the most vulnerable families. Staff are also benefiting from interactive inpatient screens in the system, allowing them to manage bed capacity and perform safe, efficient handovers.

The go-live has also included providing TPP’s smartphone application, Airmid, to all women under the maternity service. This is putting women at the very centre of their pregnancy journey. Airmid allows women to access their maternity records, manage their upcoming appointments, complete questionnaires at home, and receive personalised advice and education material. Airmid supports better engagement and seamless communication between women and their maternity care team.

SystmOne also provides significant improvements to integrated care across the region and to multidisciplinary working. For example, maternity staff can immediately access any important information entered by GPs. This is significantly improving patient experience. Women only have to tell their story once, without having to repeat themselves. GPs can directly refer into the maternity unit, improving efficiency across both services. Additionally, all new births are now automatically registered with regional Child Health services, with no extra burden placed on NHS staff.

Tracy Moss, Head of Strategic Systems’ Software Development at the Trust, said: “We are excited to be working with TPP to introduce a new maternity IT system here at Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust. The new system is expected to bring a wealth of clinical as well as efficiency benefits for our maternity teams and the wider organisation. The families we care for will also benefit from the system, as the new associated Airmid patient app will allow them to view their records, access information and be more involved in their care. Moving forward, we would like to continue to work with TPP to deploy other SystmOne products, both within our maternity unit and across our wider Torbay and South Devon organisation.”

Charlotte Knowles, Managing Director at TPP, said that “maternity services will always hold a particular place in my heart. Having had three babies, I know, from personal experience, what a superb job they do. We are delighted that the Trust are already seeing significant benefits for staff and patients from TPP Maternity. The dedication of the staff here has been truly inspiring. We are looking forward to working together to continue to make better use of technology to improve the experience and outcomes for pregnant women and their families.”

Addressing the increased demand in healthcare

Capita healthcare

With the current increased demand within health and care, it is vitality important for providers to recover from the pandemic and address the challenges faced around growing elective care backlogs, staffing pressures and rising costs.

Addressing these challenges requires industry leaders to come together and adopt value-adding solutions and technology.

In November 2021, Capita Healthcare Decisions announced a partnership with Microsoft, integrating our clinical content into the Azure Health Bot, part of Microsoft’s Health Cloud platform. The key purpose around this has been to address the patient backlogs faced and improving the patient experience through the use of new technology.

How does it work?

Capita Healthcare Decisions’ content on Health Bot uses AI to pre-empt a wide variety of patient conditions and emergencies, with 164 symptom-based algorithms and over 40 scenarios ranging from ‘call an ambulance’ to ‘self-care’. The content is customisable and adaptable, with 500 sets of care instructions, including appropriate medical information and guidance on what to do if symptoms worsen.

Health Bot users can now gain access to Capita Healthcare Decisions’ content, meaning providers have access to the evidence-based healthcare content service. Saving the patient time is a goal of the collaboration and simple everyday language is used in the place of clinical and medical terminology – delivering a more user-centric approach and promoting ease of understanding.

The service aims to give users flexibility through access to information on different devices and channels, enabling a swift referral to appropriate care. Health Bot also aims to reduce the risk to patients of ‘self-triage’ – when a person evaluates their own health concerns to determine what they should do next.

What makes the clinical content unique?

Capita Healthcare Decisions produces content which is peer-reviewed and updated by an internal team of doctors and nurses to ensure robust clinical governance.

The Health Bot is available through Microsoft’s Cloud for Healthcare, a platform that provides the structure which supports health information and patient management across healthcare organisations and health providers, both public and private. The service provides AI-powered medical data which is used by some of the largest healthcare providers, pharmaceutical companies, and tele-medicine services in the world.

How will this help?

Steve Fearon, CEO of Capita Health Decisions, said: “We are proud and excited that our relationship with Microsoft continues to grow and strengthen. With this collaboration of our world-leading clinical content, available within the Microsoft health ecosystem, we have recognised the need to provide instant access to safe and accurate medical and peer reviewed content to support positive health outcomes. We are seeing just how vital the need for this offering has become, especially at a time of growing misinformation online.

“We see this collaboration as a great opportunity for organisations to completely transform and revolutionise access to healthcare, levelling the playing field in terms of equity in access to the most up to date health guidance, and ensuring that health resources are optimised to drive clinical and operational efficiency and effectiveness.”

Hadas Bitran, Partner Group Manager at Microsoft Health and Life Sciences, said: “Capita’s content is a valuable asset in the Health Bot service that empowers healthcare organisations to assist in triaging and directing patients to the appropriate level of care and to navigate the services available to them. Timely access to quality medical information saves lives; and deepening our relationship with Capita will further strengthen the patient-centric approach that is fundamental to our Health Bot service.”

Capita Healthcare Decisions have been at the forefront of tackling the challenges within healthcare systems for over 27 years. To find out more, visit:

Capita, News

Broader partnerships within ICS essential to reduce hospital admissions


As Integrated Care Systems assume statutory footing from July, broad partnerships with the private and voluntary sectors will be essential to reduce pressure on acute NHS services, writes Charles Waddicor.

The NHS is working through one of the greatest challenges it has ever faced. With the pandemic still part of everyday life, there is an urgent need to reduce the constant pressure on the acute sector. Future plans must be based on a coordinated approach that makes the most of a wide range of partners, including the voluntary sector.

Up to seven million people are thought to have missed out on care during the pandemic, many from more deprived areas. The health system is still in a critical condition, with high rates of Covid-19, hospitalisations and waiting times rising. This perfect storm is ultimately widening the health inequalities that have come into even sharper focus during the pandemic.

The challenge is too great to leave up to the acute sector alone to solve. Every part of the health and care sector has a role to play, from primary and social care to councils, housing and the voluntary sector. The solution must lie in greater collaboration to unlock capacity and avoid preventable admissions.

Managing population health

Although the current ‘Payment by Results’ system does not always lend itself to more integrated system working, integrated care systems (ICSs) can provide an opportunity to broaden partnerships and collaboration, to help pave the way for change.

There is a case for developing health and care services that wrap around traditional care models, promoting healthier living, tackling loneliness and other areas that can impact on hospital admission. The mental health sector is already leading the way by working with other providers and some London trusts are investing £1 million annually in new contracts with the voluntary sector to strengthen support in the community.

Worcestershire County Council has also been working with the local NHS Commissioning Group and the voluntary sector since 2015, to tackle hospital admissions by providing personalised support to older people to deal with loneliness. Social isolation and loneliness reduce older people’s quality of life and are linked to poor physical and mental health outcomes.

Over five years, the reconnections service in Worcestershire supported more than 1,500 lonely older people with a majority reporting a marked reduction in their feelings of loneliness and others seeing increased independence and improvements in health and wellbeing. Once the model was shown to be successful, the service developed a relationship with Independent Age, a leading national older people’s charity, which had the resources and capability to scale up the work. The scheme has now been rolled out to two other sites – Barking & Dagenham and Havering and Guildford and Waverley.

Supporting the whole health system with greater range of partnerships

“Seeing healthcare with a broader view rather than simply through the lens of an acute hospital, can help to provide a more proactive health service”

ICSs cover larger populations than individual CCGs which means they have an opportunity to link up with a broader range of organisations. Rather than pushing back on acute trusts to accommodate a growing need for services, let us work with other non-NHS partners to support the system.

Seeing healthcare with a broader view rather than simply through the lens of an acute hospital, can help to provide a more proactive health service and avoid more hospital admissions through good population health management. Being able to target those who need care before they reach the acute stage is vital, as is proactively creating a healthier population through promotion and education.

Organisations in the voluntary sector can offer an in-depth knowledge of the communities within which they work, highlighting where and what care is needed as well as being able to increase the capacity of the health and social care system.

While quality and money are always likely to be top of the agenda for improvements to the health service, we know that people who are well-integrated into the community, who exercise and are careful with what they eat, generally do better. Therefore, promoting healthier lifestyles through a range of organisations and working in a truly integrated way will introduce good population health techniques, helping people to live independently for longer and reducing the significant pressures that are being felt across the whole system.

About Capita Healthcare Decisions

Capita Healthcare Decisions have been at the forefront of tackling the challenges within healthcare systems for over 27 years. Having served over 100 million patient interactions globally to date, we empower healthcare providers and payers to make the right decisions, driving better quality of care, improving efficiencies, and reducing operational cost at scale.

Community Diagnostic Centres: A critical response to regional inequalities

CDC regional equality

The latest report from Vanguard, Assessing the current state of play of CDC delivery across England, 2021, provides much needed clarity on the current status of CDC rollout and identifies where more support is required to achieve regional equality in healthcare provision.

The backlog in patient care is affecting every region across England, with waiting lists at an all-time high and services struggling to keep up with demand. Community diagnostic centres (CDCs) were earmarked by Sir Mike Richards as a necessity across communities to support quicker and safer access to both elective and diagnostic procedures in 2019.

A few years and a global pandemic later and the need for streamlined diagnostic service provision is now greater than ever.

An additional layer to the elective care crisis is the disproportionate impacts being felt across England; while no region of the country has been left untouched by the crisis, some are clearly being affected more severely than others. The approach to delivering CDCs is also disjointed across regions and their respective integrated care systems (ICS).

To deliver high-quality diagnostic care in the face of the backlog, a joint up and co-ordinated approach is vital. The latest report from VanguardAssessing the current state of play of CDC delivery across England2021, outlines the findings of a Freedom of Information (FOI) research project, undertaken in 2021. The findings of the report not only provide a bigger picture on the current status of CDC rollout but also identifies where more support is needed in order to achieve regional equality in healthcare provision.

Compounding inequalities

Health inequalities have been widening across England in recent years and these societal fault lines were underscored by the impact of Covid-19. There is currently a gap of almost 19 years in healthy life expectancy between the most and least deprived areas of the country. Further still, during the pandemic average life expectancy fell for the first time since 2000.

Higher rates of Covid-19 were concentrated in the most deprived areas of England, intensifying pressure on the hospitals and care services within these regions. This has caused patients living in these areas to suffer the greatest disruptions to elective care services.

According to evidence submitted by the Health Foundation to the House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee, patient treatment completion in the most deprived areas of England has fallen by 31 per cent, while completion fell to 26 per cent in the least deprived areas. Regional inequalities are only set to widen as the effects of the pandemic continue to impact patient waiting times.

 “A joint up and co-ordinated approach across England is vital to minimise the disruption to services and reduce the patient care backlog.”

Targeting inequalities with CDCs

The Vanguard report, Assessing the current state of play of CDC delivery across England, 2021, provides an overview of current CDC delivery across England. The region with ICS, STP and Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) that are farthest along in their delivery strategy is the Southeast. A high proportion of respondents reported to have a strategy in place and expect their CDC to be fully operational in the next three years. The Southeast also had the highest proportion of respondents that identified CDCs as a high spend priority.

Contrastingly, just one-third of respondents in the West Midlands identified CDCs as a high spend priority. Furthermore, the West Midlands region has the highest waiting lists for all procedures in England, accounting for 20.5 per cent of all national waiting lists as of July 2021. It is evident from the current picture of CDC roll out that more regionally tailored support is needed to level out delivery across the country, ensuring that the impact of CDCs is maximised.

Central to the CDC ‘mission’ is to minimise regional inequalities by supporting the delivery of integrated care, helping to join up disconnected patient pathways and bring services closer to the communities that use them. It is hoped this will expand capacity and improve access to care. By increasing the capacity to tackle waiting lists, the successful implementation of CDCs could help to reduce healthcare inequalities and disparities in patient outcomes.

Lindsay Dransfield, Chief Commercial Officer at flexible Healthcare Spaces provider, Vanguard said: “CDCs are an essential component to reducing patient care backlogs, creating more accessible healthcare for individuals in more deprived areas.

“Following the recent government announcement that £2.3 billion is to be spent on increasing diagnostic activity across the UK, it is now more important than ever to reduce regional health inequalities through the introduction of more CDCs.”

Fair access to funding

While the Health and Care Levy, introduced in September 2021, provides significant funding for tackling waiting lists and elective care backlogs, there remains significant challenges in ensuring equitable distribution of funding. For CDCs to be rolled out with more consistency across England, the government must ensure that regions are able to fairly access funding and support. There is currently a lack of clarity across ICS/STP/CCGs around how decisions are made to allocate funding, this lack of guidance is detrimental to regions already being impacted by higher waiting lists and capacity issues.

The Vanguard report recommends that the government and NHS “remove bureaucracy in the national procurement process to ensure CDC delivery is accessible for all bodies involved with the ICS”. Unnecessary bureaucracy in the procurement process has cost and time implications for healthcare providers, in some cases making it impossible for them to undertake the application process.

On top of reducing bureaucracy around funding, the report recommends putting in place regionally ringfenced budgets for CDCs that are calculated based on a number of indicators, such as waiting lists, current budgets, staffing requirements and available land. This will ultimately help to provide a more consistent approach in the roll out of CDCs and subsequently generate fairer patient outcomes.

A co-ordinated approach

Central to the NHS Long Term Plan is the goal of delivering fully integrated community-based healthcare. To achieve this, the Vanguard report demonstrates the need for a clear framework for CDC delivery to provide clarity across ICSs. A joint up and co-ordinated approach across England is vital to minimise the disruption to services and reduce the patient care backlog, but the benefits must be felt equally. With the most deprived areas of England facing some of the harshest consequences of the pandemic, the roll out of CDCs is an important step in ensuring accessible and equal healthcare.

The Vanguard report recommendations include:

  1. Put in place clear, accessible national funding streams in order to secure confidence in CDC delivery and enable the development of long-term, futureproofed plans.
  2. Ringfence central Government funding for CDC delivery per region, assessed on a range of factors (such as number of patients, average time for delivery of care, number of ICSs in region) to ensure the roll out of CDCs is fair and serves to actively reduce regional inequalities.
  3. Develop localised awareness and education programmes for ICSs to ensure all bodies involved with CDC delivery are aware of the opportunities available to them in terms of funding, partnership opportunities and have access to necessary additional support to ensure the success of CDC delivery.
  4. Broaden the national awareness of regional health inequalities and provide additional support and resources, beyond funding alone, to regions suffering from covid-related backlogs to better prepare them for future incidences of heightened pressure and to prioritise patient outcomes.
  5. Remove bureaucracy in the national procurement process to ensure CDC roll out is accessible for all bodies involved in the ICS.
  6. The Government and NHS should actively identify appropriate infrastructure partners who can rapidly design, build and commission appropriate high quality, safe clinical infrastructure and develop a register of verified infrastructure delivery partners to ensure CDC delivery is consistent on a national scale.
  7. Develop a sustainability guide for CDC delivery to help the NHS reach its goal of Net Zero carbon by 2045.
  8. Promote Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) for CDC delivery to transform existing facilities and create purpose-built new estates that have the flexibility to be re-purposed and expanded upon, enabling a rapid response to changing demands and enabling ICSs to build out there CDC in a modular fashion to tackle patient waiting lists.

More support needed for “fatigued” social care workforce

Social care

On the 16th March 2022, Public Policy Projects (PPP) hosted an evidence session entitled The Social Care Workforce: Averting a Crisis as part of its report series The Future of Social Care. PPP’s Social Care Network examines the most urgent issues facing social care and presents tangible solutions to address workforce challenges in the sector.

The crisis facing the social care sector is fundamentally a workforce one. The sector itself is a large employer in the UK, employing about 1.54 million people, equivalent to five per cent of the workforce. As one participant noted, “the sector itself is a huge contributor to the economy and to society”. Given that staff pay is the single biggest expenditure faced by care homes, workforce management should be front and centre whenever system finances are being considered.

Even before the pandemic, there were about 112,000 social care vacancies in England, with jobs paying only £8.50 an hour. Following the pandemic, the vacancy figures are assumed to be worse. Key issues driving individuals away from working in the social care sector include low pay, stressful working conditions and a low sense of worth.

A participant of the evidence session emphasised that the working conditions of the social care sector have led to 74 per cent of care professionals reporting that they regularly experience stress at work, an average number of sick days 25 per cent above the national average, and a staff turnover rate significantly higher than the national average.

As phrased by one participant, social care is suffering from a “fatigued workforce” not only due to the pressures of the pandemic, but issues which have existed within the sector for much longer. The problems within the social care workforce are chronic , and are considered by many to constitute a crisis. As one participant said, “clearly a workforce strategy is one of the absolute essentials that we need to have to make a success of the sector over the next decade or so”.

“The social care sector should work alongside recruitment organisations to recruit young, bright people into social care, and help them consider where a career may lead.”

One problem identified was narrow recruitment to the sector. It was stressed that within social care, “we should cast our nets wider in a recruitment approach… and recruit not only people with previous experience”. The social care sector should work alongside recruitment organisations to recruit young, bright people into social care, and help them consider where a career may lead.

It was also suggested that more effort must be made to recruit hard-to-reach and underemployed groups, including people living with disabilities, and immigrant workers. “What frustrates me is that there are individuals in these groups who can be wonderful, caring staff [but]are missed, because hiring managers are too narrow in their focus”, said one participant.

Staff retention rates in social care are low. Network members noted that social care workers often leave the sector for other, similarly paid jobs, such as retail roles, while few choose to leave and work for the NHS. One network member identified that “between care assistants in the NHS and the social care sector, there is around a 23 per cent deficit in social care. The terms and conditions are vastly better in the NHS. Pensions, sick pay, overtime and unsocial hours all contribute to that deficit.”

Essentially, social care workers are underpaid and undervalued. For both better recruitment and retention, social care workers must be appropriately paid and treated as though they are valued. Some network members identified low pay as the key driver for individuals choosing to leave the social care workforce, and yet, it was emphasised that social care is a both a skilled and psychologically demanding profession, and should be commensurately well-paid.

However, funding in the system is limited, and paying the workforce is the sector’s single biggest expense. One participant said “there is not a settlement from government or local government that actually meets the cost of care to enable us to pay a proper wage for the level of skill, ability, responsibility, dedication that [care workers] have”. Furthermore, a high proportion of social care workers are on zero-hours contracts; in London, this figure stands at 41 per cent of social care workers. Therefore, many social care workers have to deal with pay inconsistency and insecurity, on top of being low-paid.

“Network members were in agreement that social care is, and should be publicly regarded as, a skilled profession.”

While pay is regularly described as the most pressing issue in the workforce, one participant argued that in their experience of conducting exit interviews with workers, it is not low pay, but rather a low sense of worth which leads people to leave the profession. While higher pay is one way in which care workers can be practically appreciated, it was agreed that more must be done to value care work both by improving the public image of care workers and ensuring that internal structures provide support and give value to workers.

Network members were in agreement that social care is, and should be publicly regarded as, a skilled profession. “It is not the kind of job that everyone can do,” said one participant. “It is a skilled job, which requires the creation of quality human relationships and working with people who have complex care needs… it is a real skill and should be regarded as the same as working in health.”

Social work is challenging and worthy of respect, all participants agreed. One commented that “no two days in social care will be the same; you have to be agile and move with that, so it does take very special people to take those roles”. The public status of social care work must be elevated to reflect this, and the workforce to feel appropriately valued if these retention issues are to be effectively addressed.

Securing an integrated future

For a supported workforce, good leadership is essential. One participant noted that in the social care system “there is a varied approach to leadership”, and good leadership is not always evident in the system. Given the demanding nature of social care work, it is essential that carers feel well supported in their roles. One participant added that “workers do not stay because of a good job, they stay because of a good manager”, and therefore, proper leadership training must be a central goal of the workforce plan.

A practical solution suggested by one of the network members to combat low recruitment, retention and the poor image of the profession was a ‘social-care-first’ scheme, mirroring the successful teach-first scheme. Many other sectors have emulated the ‘teach-first’ template with great success. The aim of the scheme is to engage with young people to consider social care work as a career by espousing the value of a career in care. Such a scheme would emphasise how care work has the potential to transform the lives of dependent individuals, and the importance and value in building personal relationships with system users, improving the image of the profession. As part of the scheme, there should also be structured leadership, coaching and mentoring training, for the purpose of also transforming the quality of social care. This may serve to solve some of the leadership issues in the sector, as young and bright individuals will be well trained to manage and lead social care in the future.

Now that the NHS and social care are moving towards integration, participants noted that for a true and fair integration of the systems, employees should be paid and treated equally. One participant called for a joint recruitment scheme for the NHS and social care, with equal pay offered. It was also emphasised that NHS workers receive many ‘perks’, particularly since the start of the pandemic, which social care workers do not (including food and drinks discounts from certain companies).

Other suggestions to aid the integration of the NHS and social care workforce included social care placements and secondments for NHS staff, in which they are exposed to social care, and the richness and value of social care work. The status of care work must be elevated for proper integration of the two systems can occur, in order that social work and NHS work can be equally respected.

A large part of the discussion focused on the role of volunteers within the social care sector, and the value they bring to both paid carers and system users. Volunteers are an invaluable part of the social care workforce given that they reduce pressure on care workers, improve patient experiences, facilitate higher quality of care to drive better health outcomes, and strengthen community connections. One participant said that in the context of social care, “volunteering is a public health tool. There is a body of medical research which talks about the huge benefits for mental health and physical wellbeing for patients”. Volunteers also serve to raise the visibility of the social care sector.

Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, the UK has seen an unprecedented rise in the numbers of people volunteering in their local communities. During the pandemic, the UK had 12.4 million people volunteering in their local communities. 4.6 million of these were first-time volunteers. Currently, the UK has a window of opportunity to make the most of the interest in volunteering to reduce the immense pressure on care workers.

As part of the workforce strategy, there needs to be investment to drive the volunteer sector, for the wellbeing of the social care system and its users. However, time is undoubtedly of the essence; as one participant emphasised, “there is an urgency to the conversation we are having. As Covid dissipates, what we don’t want is for people to go back into the corners of their community and not come out again to contribute.”