Autumn Speakers Series: 'Care workers' not 'carers'

08 October 2018

Karolina Gerlich is a proud care worker and a NACAS Director. She has worked as a care worker for the past 7 years, and brings experience of business management and providing training. She is studying for a degree in Psychology with the Open University and for a BTEC HND in Health and Social Care. She will be speaking at the upcoming BGS Autumn Meeting in London. Follow @NacasUK

The National Association of Care & Support Workers conducted its first research into the well-being of care workers this year. Overwhelmingly, the results indicate that there is still a lot of work required to improve the mental health and well-being - as well as the professional standing - of care and support workers.

Worryingly, the report finds that the typical care worker’s mental health is negatively affected by their job. Over 60% of respondents either agreed (36%) or strongly agreed (26%) that issues relating to their work have had a negative impact on their mental health – almost three times the number of respondents who claimed it did not. Care workers feel that they are not in a position to take time out to look after themselves, and that stress at work puts them under pressure to leave the industry. Most participants also told us they felt they would not be supported by their employer if they needed time off.

Most of those who responded to our survey see themselves as professionals, yet it is concerning that they do not feel respected as such by their employers or wider society. Indeed, while over 90% of respondents saw themselves as professionals, only 25% agreed or strongly agreed that wider society respects them as such. The majority feel that they aren’t respected as a professional by their employer(s), with 26% either disagreeing (17%) or strongly disagreeing (9%) with this sentiment.

We know that a lot of work needs to be done to generate more respect and recognition for care professionals. We want helpers to get as much help as they give. While care workers are great at looking after others, all too often they neglect themselves.

Co-production and multidisciplinary teams are a prevalent movement in today’s health and social care industry. NACAS asks that healthcare professionals include care workers more extensively in these ways of working. We are calling for geriatric medicine professionals to look at care workers as professionals, which our report shows an overwhelming majority of them would like to be considered as.

At the BGS Autumn Meeting, I will be speaking about the vital role that care workers play in looking after older people and supporting geriatric specialists in their work. Care workers are in a position to support people in staying at home or in care homes, and avoiding unnecessary hospital admissions. Similarly, they have the ability to help reduce the number of delayed transfers of care, and to provide people with appropriate help and support after hospitalisation. Care workers with experience in dementia support can aid patients in hospitals while other staff members are busy, and provide them with much-needed companionship and reassurance.

A skilled care worker can make a visit smooth and calm by assisting older patients with dementia during a hospital appointment. By knowing the patient - their life, their likes and dislikes, their personality - a care worker can help the patient negotiate the unknown and ensure minimal stress for the patient in getting to the right place at the right time. This care worker can assist a doctor, nurse, or radiographer in talking to the patient, and can provide vital information about their care. Indeed, the care worker might be the only person that the patient feels adequately comfortable with when being helped with undressing and putting on a hospital gown for a CT scan. A care worker is often a person that the patient trusts as they have spent many hours together and have a developed a trusting relationship. All of this is extremely valuable and should be used as an important resource in order to provide people with person-centred care at every step.

We recognise that change doesn’t often happen overnight. As our study shows, there is a great disparity between care organisations, care workers, and the general public in how the profession is perceived. It is important to remember that the significance of companionship, language, and other intangible aspects is just as important as the physical help that is given by care workers. To this end, one necessary change must be that professionals should be known as care workers, rather than carers. A change so seemingly small encapsulates so much of what we as an organisation, and care workers in general, are seeking to achieve. Care workers are not only providing a necessary service in looking after society’s most vulnerable, but they are doing so as qualified professionals: and should be recognised, respected, and protected as such.

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