Harnessing the skills, potential and influence of the adult social care workforce


The acclaimed novelist, Doris Lessing, once said “Any human anywhere will blossom in a hundred unexpected talents and capacities simply by being given the opportunity to do so.”

In the two and half years I’ve held the post of chief nurse for adult social care, and the decades prior spent in frontline care services, I have seen the undeniable truth of that statement, time and time again.

My mission, alongside my colleagues in the sector, has always been to harness the skills, potential and influence of the social care workforce, boosting recruitment, retention and expansion of an exciting, rewarding and evolving profession.

A major part of this endeavour has been nurturing the next generation of nursing leaders, giving them the platform and resources to hone their craft and make their voices heard.

Social care nurses operate in a complex and varied environment, across multiple care settings, working with and, where appropriate, constructively challenging other health and care professionals.

Our health and care system continues to face challenges both old and new, making collaborative and confident leadership an absolute necessity.

Social care nursing needs to attract and retain the most highly skilled workforce. The levels of autonomy, advanced clinical decision making and complex care management, without the accessible onsite infrastructure of support and multi-professional clinical expertise, makes such roles not for the faint hearted.

Investing in our workforce has never been more needed. The Nursing and Midwifery Council have, for the first time, developed a specialist practitioner qualification (SPQ) for social care nursing. This recordable qualification means nurses in social care can follow a pathway of development and academic achievement, which recognises the specialist skills needed in these settings.

These are critical moments in the sector’s professional nursing workforce development. For the first time, the Queen’s Nursing Institute (QNI) has written standards for social care nursing, which set the bar and expectation.

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Developing nurse associates as part of the career pathway is important in creating opportunity for personal growth and career development. We have to explore new skill mixes, enhanced their development and ensure safe, effective clinical care through the principles of delegation and supervision. Social care is moving into a new era – there is much work to do and we will build on these emerging opportunities.

And building on opportunity was a big motivation for launching the Social Care Nurse Advisory Councils in every integrated care board (ICB) in England earlier this year. They were set up to give our colleagues a voice – a forum in which they can share best practice, ideas and concerns with their NHS counterparts and receive useful insights in return.

Each council includes a board of representatives from social care nursing in the local area. They work with the chief nurse in each ICB to provide a wider understanding of nursing right across the health and care sector. It’s a wonderful thing to see this strengthening of mutual professional respect and acknowledgement and I wish it had happened years ago.

In a blog post earlier this year, Zoe Fry, a Director of The Outstanding Society and council chair, enthused about their purpose:

“[They are] about encouraging diversity of ideas, listening to each other and acting on the things that will make the most difference. I see the councils as being places to debate and support the exchange of ideas… They can also be forums to discuss and problem-solve areas important to social care nurses and the wider sector, whilst ultimately delivering better outcomes for individuals, populations and our teams.”

The councils epitomise the ethos of nurses, across all health and care settings, working together to improve the experience of those in our care. This collaboration must be guided by leaders who are not afraid to challenge the status quo and advocate positive change.

Conversely, there are many instances in care settings where we must demonstrate confident and skilled autonomy. Nurse-led services require us to make complex clinical assessments and decisions often on our own. That’s why we need skilled nurses who are confident practitioners and effective leaders of care. We have exceptionally talented nurses among us and I am doing all I can to attract more colleagues of this calibre.

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Inspiring leadership also thrives on representation, diversity and fresh perspectives. Our colleagues from overseas bring a wealth of experience and skills which can only enhance social care nursing.

Over the last two years, we have made great strides in raising our sector’s profile, including leadership programmes and new opportunities which encourage applicants from the global majority.

In partnership with the Florence Nightingale Foundation, we continue to support these amazing nurses, who have been such welcome and valuable contributors to the health and wellbeing of our nation, even before the arrival of HMS Windrush and the foundation of the NHS.

We have also been working in partnership with the RCN Foundation to establish the first chair in social care nursing to drive academic and educational leadership. Social care nursing SPQ apprenticeships demonstrate our ambition for advanced practice as we support the educational, personal and professional development of skilled lead practitioners.

Elsewhere, we are working hard to expand skill sets, enrich nursing careers and, by extension, the quality of care received. Delegated healthcare activities, clinical actions more frequently undertaken by registered nurses, are nothing new, but the recent launch of guiding principles, in association with Skills for Care, are helping more social care worker colleagues add these valuable skills to their portfolio and help deliver truly person centred care.

These principles also help us build career pathways and opportunities for future leaders and support the expansion of senior enhanced roles in our incredible 1.6 million strong workforce. We are also working closely with care sector partners to enhance training opportunities, career pathways and certification to make skills sets even more valuable, adaptable and portable.

“Everything I do in my role as chief nurse for adult social care is to create more opportunities for social care colleagues to grow, lead by example and enjoy rewarding careers in this amazing profession”

It’s one thing, of course, to know how good we are, but I want the rest of the world to know it too.

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Over two years ago, I launched the Chief Nurse for Adult Social Care Awards, an opportunity for care colleagues to nominate individuals and teams who demonstrate leadership, creativity and compassion across all care settings. You can nominate all year round, so don’t worry about missing deadlines.

This very publication is also making sure our profession gets its moment in the sun with the addition, in recent years, of the Nursing Times: Nursing In Social Care Award. I can’t emphasise enough how motivating it is for colleagues to receive this national recognition from their peers.

Last year’s winners used this blog post to explain how receiving the award, for their innovative weight loss programme for care homes, inspired them to develop more transformative activities for residents.

Everything I do in my role as chief nurse for adult social care is to create more opportunities for social care colleagues to grow, lead by example and enjoy rewarding careers in this amazing profession.

As winter approaches, support and recognition of our nursing colleagues will become ever more paramount. As leaders, we must demonstrate the empathy, rapport and compassion we expect to see in others and remind ourselves why we do this job: to make life better for those who need our help the most.

For me leadership is about creating opportunity for others. Only in this way can we attract the best, retain the skilled and realise the potential of future generations. Wherever we work and no matter where we are in our careers as social care nurses, our profession is always about working in partnership, so that we truly serve the needs of those we care for and the colleagues we support.

Deborah Sturdy is chief nurse for adult social care

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