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Raina Summerson

Raina Summerson is Group Chief Executive of Agincare.

Reflections on the last decade

We recently launched the Agincare Health and Social Care Academy. As part of that work, we built a portfolio of ‘careers in care’ and the huge variety of current roles, and the routes people have taken in their health and social care careers, reflecting some of the changes over the last decade.

A decade ago, we were operating across limited locations with about 700 staff. We were growing rapidly, largely through successful bids on local authority contracts. Commissioners were learning about how to commission wider care services from the independent sector, contracts were lengthy and mainly block arrangements. Our meals on wheels service was providing a valuable preventative service for thousands. We were one of the few organisations providing live-in care with a dedicated team.

Our ‘Agincare journey’ reflects the significant changes over the last decade. Austerity measures triggered kneejerk behaviours from the main ‘purchasers’ (local authorities), the impact of which were far-reaching and remain today. Contracts for meals on wheels is a barometer of this, with few remaining and most major providers no longer operating as it is simply unviable; we heavily subsidised several services before having to cease.

Local authorities started driving prices down (though expectations up) amongst desperate measures to fulfil required budget cuts. There was demand for low prices but without guarantees or block payment. The ageing population led to investment in ‘the market’, risking care being seen as a commodity to trade in and fuelling criticism and generalisation of ‘greedy’ private providers. The cost of care continued to rise due to external pressures, more expensive administrative requirements and complexity of service delivery.

Recruitment and retention at all levels became a national problem for many reasons: demographic, pay, diminishing job satisfaction with increased risks, a blame culture and negative stereotyping.

Due to such issues, all roles within social care have become more complex and difficult, so it makes me incredibly proud to have so many staff who have grown and developed with Agincare over this time. The diversity of our team, the vast array of skills and experience and the passion and commitment shown to social care despite its many challenges never ceases to amaze me.

Projections for the next decade

The social care crisis is not close to being addressed and may not yet have reached rock bottom. There will be more failing providers, more people with unmet needs, and ongoing problems with attracting workforce and adequate funding arrangements for a decent system that meets the needs of society. Brexit presents potential risks to us in respect of political attention, government priority and workforce supply. The many challenges for the sector are written about almost daily.

However, times of crisis often bring opportunities. There will be opportunities to change outdated ways of working, for partnership working and collaboration, for wider recognition of shared needs and outcomes, even improved public awareness raising and responsibility.

Agincare now operates from over 50 locations, across two groups: home based community services and care home services, with over 3,000 staff. We provide a vast array of services, including carers’ respite, extra care, support and care into prisons, live-in care, discharge to assess services, reablement, intermediate care and nursing care. We have developed partnerships looking to provide adaptable and responsive services. Our team has lobbied hard, and will continue to do so, for social care and our workforce to get wider recognition. We have demonstrated that we always want to give more and better, whatever the conditions, and that we can continue to flourish, thinking creatively about, not just survival, but positive change and growth.

There is no doubt that the coming decade will bring worry, continued challenges and tough decisions. But, as ever, it will also bring moments of real fun, immense satisfaction, reward and great experiences with amazing people.          CMM

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