Guest blog by Chris Fennell, Head of Outreach, Kent Social Care Professionals Limited
For several years now there has been much political debate about the quality of care and service provided by health institutions and organisations. In times of widespread economic hardship it is becoming more and more important to remember that the people matter in these issues more than the bottom line.
The National Health Service (NHS) has faced increasing challenges over the past few years as budget cuts have applied pressure while demand for care services has increased. So how exactly are healthcare organisations and social care providers supposed to make time to hear the thoughts of patients, public and service users?
Prioritising effective involvement of social care service users
Finding time to listen is not the only problem; measures must be put in place to ensure that the involvement of service users is effective in improving standards and maintaining a good relationship. The process must be managed properly so that it is cost-effective and provides results. This means proper planning and well trained staff is of the highest priority. The Health and Care Professions Council regulates social work and other healthcare professions and has committed to improving user involvement in professional education, which will go a long way towards the overall effectiveness of involving service users and their care providers.
A case manager from social care provider, KentSCP, is very keen on service user involvement:
“It is important to us that the service user is included in as many decisions as possible because ultimately, this is their life and even when they are of diminished capacity, a relationship has to be maintained in which they feel they are valued and important. No assumptions are to be made based on a particular impairment or disability and the care plan details all of the relevant information.
All of our social care workers are trained with this in mind so that our standards are maintained and improved by continuous, structured and analysed feedback from our service users.”
Evidently, it is possible for social care service providers to implement proper feedback systems and good day-to-day standards of service user involvement and relationship building. But, there are some common factors that have been associated with the exclusion of certain individuals from decision making which has led to disillusionment among many people under care. The Department of Health recently implemented a research project on the issue of service user involvement called Beyond The Usual Suspects: Towards inclusive involvement.
Overcoming common barriers that have hindered social care services
Research from the DH project has shown that often users are excluded because of communication issues that can be put down to ethnic and impairment barriers. These include the visually or hearing impaired and those whose first language is not English. This highlights a need for not only more culturally diverse support networks but a better framework for educating social care workers at all levels.
Perhaps more concerning issues that have been found to cause exclusion in the research are based on equality. Common barriers reported by service users are caused by ethnicity, gender, cultural background, sexuality, belief, class, age and disability. It is concerning that older people are clearly underrepresented considering that there will be 20 million pensioners in the UK in 20 years time, and a large portion of those will require social care services for a wide array of circumstances.
Giving service users a voice
Ultimately, to further improve the involvement of service users in social care services and their relationships, measures must be taken to assure that opinions are heard. Considering the different types of people that have views and opinions on decision making processes, more needs to be done to provide a platform for each individual to get their voice heard.
This can be achieved with education of the social care workers, education of service users into means of communication whether it be user led organisations, being shown how to use the internet or at the very basic level, enhanced communication between user and provider.
This post presents the views of the author, and not necessarily the position of LSE Health and Social Care, nor of the London School of Economics and Political Science.