Karen Reid: Recruiting and retaining committed staff is so important for high-quality care

Karen Reid, Chief Executive of the Care Inspectorate
Karen Reid, Chief Executive of the Care Inspectorate
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People often ask what the biggest factor is in delivering high quality care and support. The honest answer is that there is no single thing that guarantees care and support will always be good.

Care and support is so complex – it requires the right resources, leadership, partnership working, proper involvement of people and a great team with empowered staff who understand the contribution they make.

Evidence tells us that high quality care is closely linked to high quality staffing. Cognitive development of children is many months more advanced where they experience high performing early learning and childcare and this can help them later at school.

Older people in residential care tell us their quality of life is ­frequently enhanced by the care and support of staff. Young people in care often tell us about the importance of staff in supporting them through trauma and adverse childhood ­experiences. Having the chance to work in care is a privilege – it is a career that can really make a difference to other people’s lives.

People often benefit from an effective and stable staff team which allows ­people experiencing care to build trusting relationships with those ­supporting them.

But with more than 200,000 ­people working in social work and social care in Scotland, there will always be changes – even in the most stable of teams. Recruitment and retention remain major challenges in some parts of social care. The reasons are complex and not easy to resolve. It will take employers, commissioners, regulators and governments to work together even more closely than ever before.

High quality care is about listening to the needs of people and ­providing the best possible experience. Scotland’s new Health and Social Care Standards set out what people should experience from care. People should be ­supported by staff who understand their rights, needs and choices – and know how to support people as ­individuals.

There are 2,600 social care employers in Scotland and many face recruitment challenges. For the last few years, the Care Inspectorate has worked to understand which care services have vacancies, and where care providers struggle to recruit.

The most recent results, published before Christmas, show that 35 per cent of care services in Scotland reported one or more staff vacancies. Filling them was ­particularly hard in care at home and in residential care homes. The picture varies geographically too – the strength of a local economy can make recruitment even harder in particular parts of Scotland.

By working together across health, social care, social work, children’s services and early learning and childcare, there is the potential to develop new models. The Scottish Government’s health and social care strategic workforce plan has ­excellent ideas about how to recruit more people into care.

There is one thing that mustn’t happen in response to the recruitment challenges, and that is for us to think that by lowering our expectations of quality, we would widen the pool of potential suitable applicants. People experiencing care and their carers wouldn’t countenance it, and neither would those charged with maintaining the integrity of the profession.

When the Scottish Government asked the Care Inspectorate and the Scottish Social Services Council to jointly lead the development of new safer recruitment guidance, the importance of values-based recruitment was central, ensuring that people are recruited on the basis of their potential to deliver compassionate care.

Continually improving the experiences and outcomes for people must be the guiding principle.

Social care is at heart a values-based profession. That requires staff to have a strong understanding of how they can care for and support people in a way that upholds their human rights, promotes their wellbeing, and embeds compassion.

Now is the time for care services and employers to promote collective leadership – leadership by all, for all, and together with all. Collective leadership enables and empowers, develops and trusts, and ensures that everyone is working to deliver the quality we all expect. Embedding that notion of collective leadership will give life to the expectation in the new care standards, that staff in care work together with people who experience care and their carers, in a spirit of partnership, to put the rights, needs and choices of people at the heart of everything.

Karen Reid, chief executive of the Care Inspectorate.