EVELOPING a National Care Service is essential to help address staff recruitment and retention difficulties, according to a Senedd Committee.


The Senedd’s Public Accounts and Public Administration Committee has called on the Welsh Government to help develop the new service to combat the difficulties in recruitment and retention that are causing ‘significant stress’ for the care homes.


The Committee is concerned that the current situation is fettering the ability of providers to provide good, quality social care for its users and that more support from the Welsh Government is crucial to driving up standards.


The Committee also says that establishing the National Care Service will also ensure ‘parity of pay and conditions within the sector.


Mark Isherwood MS, chair of the Public Accounts and Public Administration Committee, said: “More needs to be done to provide parity in pay and terms between the health service and social care sector, to ensure more staff can be trained and retained within the social care sector.


“The funding systems for care home provision are complex and difficult to navigate for organisations delivering services and for people who use them.


“When families, staff and patients are referring to the system as ‘discriminative’ and stating that it has a ‘them and us mentality’, clearly something needs to be done.”

COMMITTEE RECOMMENDS PAY PARITY

The Committee makes 13 recommendations to the Government for how it can improve the care system in Wales, including:


Calling for a review of salaries and terms and conditions of care workers to ensure parity with NHS staff and to be competitive with other industries, such as the hospitality industry.
Without parity of pay and conditions, the sector will continue to face problems recruiting and retaining staff.


Calling for the Welsh Government’s task and finish groups developing the new National Framework for social care to consult service users as part of its work.
Encouraging and supporting the role of volunteers in care homes but within the strict boundaries of supporting quality of life, such as developing shared interests and activities.
Volunteers must not be used to provide professional care services.

CARE WORKERS FACE A DOUBLE WHAMMY

The Committee report follows concerns that thousands of care workers in Wales face a double whammy of sky-high bills and the threat of poverty after the latest Welsh Government decision on sick pay.


UNISON reports that care workers in Wales will not receive any top-up to their sick pay if they must self-isolate.
The measure was brought in at the height of the pandemic to ensure care workers could afford to self-isolate to protect vulnerable people they care for and other staff from the coronavirus.


More than 60% of care in Wales is delivered by the private sector who – in the main – do not pay their workers sick pay.


Trade unions originally welcomed the scheme as a good use of funds for the devolved nations from emergency funding in England.


Care workers in Wales at least were guaranteed normal pay if forced to self-isolate.
Mark Turner, head of social care for UNISON Cymru/Wales, said the decision by the Welsh Government not to provide any supplement to statutory sick pay for social care workers would cause an impossible dilemma for staff in the private and third sector in Wales during the coming winter.


He said: “This is disappointing, but perhaps not unexpected news. “With the English emergency funding long since finished, Welsh Government has extended this scheme as long as it could within the existing resources.

“But this latest decision will cause impossible dilemmas for care workers in the private and third sector in Wales during the coming winter.


“If there is another, a more transmissible or more severe new strain of the virus, tens of thousands of already low-paid care workers will face a double whammy of the cost-of-living crisis and being plunged into greater poverty simply because they are ill, or to protect our vulnerable.


“It’s not sustainable and it’s not acceptable.”


Dominic MacAskill, UNISON Cymru/Wales regional secretary, said: “We know that Welsh Government is committed to improving pay and conditions for care workers, but its latest decision could provoke a deepening crisis in care.


“UNISON wants a national care service, which takes care delivery back into direct council provision and removes the profit motive.


“That would be the easiest way to drive up standards and secure decent pay, conditions and dignity for care workers. As an immediate step, ministers must prioritise the creation of collective bargaining across the sector, so things like decent sick pay, in line with the health service and council workers, be placed at the top of the agenda.


“There can be no further delay. UNISON and other trade unions will be calling for care workers in Wales to receive decent sick pay before winter pressures hit.”

DELIVERING A NATIONAL CARE SERVICE

Earlier this year, the Welsh Government announced an expert panel to advise it on establishing a National Care Service.


Creating a National Care Service was a key pledge for Plaid Cymru in last year’s Senedd elections, and tensions exist between Plaid and its Labour partners over the scope and operational detail of such a scheme.


Launching the expert panel back in April, Cefin Campbell MS said: “Creating a new National Care Service, which is free at the point of need, will be a historic step forward in caring for some of the most vulnerable in our society.


“Our care system and those who work in it do so much to look after our loved ones. It is a system that faces many challenges and will need to change and adapt in the coming years.
“It is so heartening that we are coming together, in a Welsh co-operative spirit, to make a difference to lives of people and communities right across the nation and putting the most vulnerable first. This expert panel will bring their expertise, knowledge, and experience as we together take our first step towards a new National Care Service for Wales.”


However, a key report from the thinktank Demos, based on surveys of Welsh residents, showed “fairly strong opposition” to higher taxes to pay specifically for social care in Wales.

THE WG’s TRUST PROBLEM

Significantly, that opposition was driven by a lack of trust in the Welsh Government’s ability to deliver social care effectively; concerns about its existing management of the Welsh NHS; and concerns that Wales alone could not afford to meet its social care bill without help from the rest of the UK.

There was vanishingly small support for the Welsh Government to raise

 a specific tax to pay for a National Care Service.


The alternative is removing the element of funding the Welsh Government allocates for social care from local authority budgets.


That move would hit low-spending councils hardest and possibly drive care provision down to the lowest cost option instead of guaranteeing the maintenance of existing care standards in some council areas.


In addition, removing a large chunk of local authorities’ budgets and discretion could result in increased Council Tax in some areas with no improvement in social care provision.