Claire O’Shea, our campaign manager in Wales, looks at how a stretched social care system is impacting the lives of care workers and lonely people. 

If we are serious about ending loneliness, supporting the development of the social care workforce and the way care is delivered must be addressed. Loneliness is a growing epidemic for an ageing population. People are living longer with complex issues that contribute to loneliness and isolation. Older people experiencing loneliness are hard to reach, but care workers are often the people best placed to begin to recognise this and support people at the beginning of their journey out of it.

I was recently asked to join a panel chaired by Unison to discuss loneliness and the social care workforce, We know that many older lonely people rely on their care visits as one of the only contacts they have, and many older people experiencing loneliness are living in residential care homes.

The social care workforce understand what loneliness looks like, they are exposed to it on a daily basis but feel under-resourced and lacking in time to tackle it.

The state of care

In 2012 Unison published their Ethical Care Charter which highlighted many issues for care workers 79% of respondents said that their work schedule was arranged which meant they had to rush or leave client visits early.

Those workers who refused to leave early and provide the level of care they believe is needed, end up working in their own time. 36.7% of respondents reported that they were allocated different clients affecting ability of clients to form relationships with their care workers.

The written responses highlighted issues like rushed visits being a false economy leading to greater likelihood of falls, medication errors and deterioration through loneliness.

In 2017, Unison also published their Residential Care Charter; the statistics were stark 88% of residential care workers said that they didn’t have time for a conversation with residents, 83% can’t do nice things with residents. It is no wonder older people feel lonely in residential care despite being surrounded by people.

Across both reports workers highlighted that they felt inadequately trained to deal with conditions such as stroke and dementia – both of which can lead to profound feelings of loneliness.

Care workers need time

Reading these reports and the recommendations that went with them it was clear that the workforce were unable to spend enough time with clients to have conversations with them. Care workers changed so frequently it was hard to build a relationship of trust and didn’t feel trained to cope

Both Charters call for changes to the way social care is delivered that would help end the loneliness of their clients: Having enough staff to ensure care doesn’t just consist of basic tasks but includes a social dimension. Care workers need the time time to provide regular activities, and to receive the necessary training to provide a good service. Alongside a raft of other suggestions that would change the way workers were able to tackle loneliness.

When preparing for the panel I came across a story in Cardiff about two friends who hadn’t seen each other for 4 years. In their free time care workers reunited the friends at a coffee morning.

Imagine a workforce so well resourced this kind of thing could happen all the time. People often work in care because they are compassionate people. With the right support they can demonstrate these qualities.