The way in which social care has responded to the pandemic has clearly shown its importance in giving people practical support as well as helping them be safe and independent.
It is therefore pleasing to see the priority for Covid vaccination that has been given to health and social care workers, which will have the benefit of supporting workforce well-being, as well as reducing the risk of transmission to vulnerable individuals.
By supporting people from cradle to grave, social workers use their expertise to assist and safeguard those who may be at risk of harm from poor parenting or poor care. They also support those of us who may need extra help to stay independent and live well with a physical or mental health problem, or a disability.
Front line social care workers, providing support in care homes or in people’s own homes, are qualified in delivering dignified person-centred care, often with health colleagues, family members, and private and voluntary sector organisations.
According to the latest ONS data, front line social care has been one of the occupations with the highest death rate from Covid among men and women in England and Wales.
The pandemic has shown the importance of evidence in deciding priorities.
Politicians are using the expertise of scientists who are reviewing Covid data daily to inform next steps in reducing the impact of the pandemic.
The NHS benefits from significant investment in clinical trials, to assess which drug or treatment is best for specific health problems, including recent investments in vaccine development.
In contrast, investment in research into social care interventions and other public services is starting from a relatively low base. Yet we know it is highly likely there will be a post-pandemic increase in demand for social care support, long after the NHS has done its great job in treating people.
Many will face a period of recovery from ‘long Covid’, as well as the emotional effects of social isolation, job losses, reduced incomes and family pressures. All these will increase demand for social care. We are already seeing increased referrals, at a time when budgets are fully committed, and the workforce is fragile and exhausted from the impact of Covid.
This makes it critical that we gain a better understanding, through research, of which practices and interventions work best, while acknowledging that a ’one size fits all’ approach is unlikely to meet the unique needs of every individual.
That is why we are currently working with a range of partners to implement a research strategy for social care.
We have a vision for Wales to be internationally renowned for its excellent social care research, and for this research to be used to support the people of Wales. This will be achieved by informing and improving social care policy and practice, for adults and children and young people.
The strategy focuses on involving the public, research priorities, use of data, developing the workforce, and communicating and using research.
My next article will provide more detail on the research strategy. In the meantime, if you are keen to get involved in research into social care, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.