Health and Social Care Workers: Recognition and Reward Debate

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Department: Department of Health and Social Care

Health and Social Care Workers: Recognition and Reward

Paul Bristow Excerpts
Thursday 25th June 2020

(10 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department of Health and Social Care
Jamie Stone Portrait Jamie Stone (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD)
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25 Jun 2020, 12:05 a.m.

May I say how delighted I am to be back in this place? For the last period of time, I have been working, rather like Harry Potter, under the stairs of my home in the highlands. Whether that has affected me as an hon. Member is up to others, from all parts of the Chamber, to decide.

By definition, health is devolved in Scotland, so my remarks will be pertinent to Scotland, but they may have a wider application to England. Of course, my colleague the hon. Member for Twickenham (Munira Wilson) will be enlarging on our party’s position in the rest of the UK. As my colleagues on the Back Benches have said, the notion of an award—a gong, a medal or a ribbon with something on the end of it—without a whole-scale review of pay and conditions is just not on.

I want to make several comments about conditions, and to quote two people. On occasion during the pandemic, from under my staircase in my home, I have telephoned Dr Alison Brooks of the Princes Street practice in Thurso, in the very far north of Scotland, and she gave me sage advice at all times. Today she said this to me about the nurses with whom she works. She knows of a nurse—a friend of hers in Glasgow—who has worked 10 night shifts on the trot just to cover the job, because colleagues were sick. Dr Brooks said to me, “Remember, NHS staff don’t just walk away; they go above and beyond. They feel a moral obligation.”

Dr Brooks encouraged me to think about the toll that it takes on NHS staff when they know that they have been in a risk situation, albeit with the best of equipment, but they go back to their families, loved ones and young ones with the niggling fear at the back of their minds that they might bring the virus back with them. When we reflect on pay and conditions, we must think about how we cover sickness absence.

My second example is from a nurse from Wick in Caithness who worked in the high-dependency covid ward in Raigmore for the duration of the pandemic. This is what she wrote to me:

“My suggestion would be that there could be skills based tiers within bandings. For example: one for those who have little clinical responsibility and/or skills; one for those who have advanced clinical skills and responsibility.”

She says that the doctors cover the advanced stuff, but very often the doctor will have to cover the entire hospital, so they have to make clinical decisions. Perhaps remuneration for such people should be fine-tuned within the banding.

I conclude with this. When I was a councillor, a long time ago, my colleagues gave me the area chairmanship of social work because they thought that nobody else would want it. Remember that social work may be seen as a Cinderella service, and we must sort that out in the review.

Paul Bristow Portrait Paul Bristow (Peterborough) (Con)
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25 Jun 2020, 12:07 a.m.

I would like to place on record my thanks to everyone who works at Peterborough City Hospital, the North West Anglia NHS Foundation Trust, Caroline Walker and her team, my local clinical commissioning group, everyone at Peterborough City Council, all the GP surgeries in Peterborough and all the community pharmacies in Peterborough who have worked so hard to get us through this tough time.

I want to focus my remarks on home care and domiciliary care workers. If we want parity of esteem between social care workers and NHS workers, and there is a conflict there, we need the same parity of esteem between care workers who work in care homes and those who help people in their own homes.

I have heard many personal stories, both good and bad, as a member of the Health and Social Care Committee and in my work as the constituency MP for Peterborough. I remember talking to Richard, who told me that he felt that it was almost cheating to call what he did “work”, because he spent lots of his time talking to friends—the people he cared for. Mel told me that she would always recommend social care as a career, despite some of the challenges that she has, but too often we hear bad stories about the experiences of staff who work in domiciliary care. People were being tutted at for wearing their uniform out in public—there is a lack of understanding that domiciliary care workers wear their uniforms as they travel between clients’ homes.

Understanding is key to all of this, because lots of people still call this low-skilled work, not understanding that domiciliary care work involves administering medicines and doing other complex tasks. A domiciliary care worker needs to be a real people’s person, and they are often hidden heroes in our communities. My father died relatively recently. He was a strong and independent man. Domiciliary care workers cleaned him, dressed him and gave him back his dignity, and my mother and I can never say thank you enough for that.

Home care is the biggest part of the social care sector and it employs hundreds of thousands of people. I would like to ask three questions in the time remaining. We talk a lot about valuing our social care staff and parity of esteem, but how can we resolve this problem relating to the value of NHS and social care workers? What can we do that is concrete? Would it be right for local authorities to pay for social care activities? Can we do better by looking at outcomes? Finally, can we look to integrate our NHS and social care workforce as they have in Denmark?

Gerald Jones Portrait Gerald Jones (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney) (Lab)
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25 Jun 2020, 12:03 a.m.

I am pleased to be able to speak in this important debate, supported by millions of people across the country, including some in my constituency. Nothing we do will ever truly recognise our care workers for what they do, but the Government must acknowledge their sacrifices and their dedication and commitment. As Ministers and Members from across the House have acknowledged time and again during the pandemic, these are truly exceptional times. Our NHS and care workers across the UK are doing truly exceptional work, so often invisible to the vast majority of us.

It has never been more important than now to recognise the invaluable contribution our care workers make, especially those who are not paid properly for their sacrifices and the often difficult and long hours they work to support those in need, families and local communities. I pay tribute to the Welsh Labour Government for leading the way, as ever, in recognising care workers. In April, the Welsh Government agreed a £500 payment and subsequently agreed that it will apply not only to carers in Wales, but to cooks, cleaners and a range of other key frontline staff working on the frontline in care who make an immeasurable contribution to the health and wellbeing of those most in need.

I urge the UK Government to do the right thing, make an exception in this case and allow care workers to keep the entire £500 one-off payment in recognition of their efforts not only during the pandemic, but all year round. To do anything less is an insult to the sacrifices they have made and the pressure that they put themselves under to care for those most in need during such a difficult time. I ask the Minister to confirm that she will make representations to the Treasury in this regard and will indeed allow carers in Wales to receive the full £500 in recognition of their amazing efforts during the pandemic, and remove the tax requirement in this case.

The Welsh Government have arranged for payment to thank care workers, despite operating on a budget from Westminster that has been subjected to a decade of harsh austerity. As we have heard, there are many ways in which the UK Government can give proper recognition to the many thousands of people working in social care across the country, rather than simply clapping on a Thursday night. The Government should fully recognise the work of care staff and, at the very least, increase pay, testing and the provision of PPE for NHS and care workers immediately to ease the immense pressure on the shoulders of many who provide care to those in need, allowing them to feel safe, given the many risks they face day to day, not only on the frontline during the pandemic but throughout the year. I urge the Government to act and I hope the Minister will respond accordingly.

Alexander Stafford Portrait Alexander Stafford (Rother Valley) (Con)
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25 Jun 2020, midnight

We have been fighting a war in Rother Valley over the past few months. Our enemy has been the coronavirus and we have all made great sacrifices. No one has sacrificed more than our incredible health and social care workers, who have put everything on the line to defeat this terrible virus. I speak from personal experience: my mother-in-law, Joyce, works in the NHS, and our family has shared the anxiety and worry that health professionals’ families are experiencing up and down the country.

Paul Bristow Portrait Paul Bristow
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25 Jun 2020, midnight

May I place on record my thanks to my hon. Friend’s mother-in-law, Joyce, who I believe works at Peterborough City Hospital?

Alexander Stafford Portrait Alexander Stafford
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25 Jun 2020, 12:01 a.m.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Paul Bristow) for his kind words. I thank all the people who work in the NHS. Without their dedication and experience, we would not be in the position we are in today. The British people owe those heroes an eternal debt of gratitude. Thanks to them, and to the Government’s strong and decisive actions, Britain is recovering day by day.

I pay tribute to the health and social care workers of Rother Valley. Once again, they have risen to the challenge and proven themselves to be the backbone of our community. Likewise GPs, such as those at the Stag medical centre and the Swallownest health centre, have been working hard to continue to treat people throughout the pandemic. I was moved by a recent letter from one of my constituents, Graham Makin, notifying me of the phenomenal work carried out by the care workers at Waterside Grange care home in Dinnington, who are looking after his wife during this crisis. Graham writes:

“the outstanding dedication and incredible expertise that all the staff give to the residents. It is very close to a ‘family’ environment. To them this is not a job—certainly not for the money they earn—it is truly a vocation and a passion.”

Graham is of course right. He goes on to urge a better deal for those in the care sector. I am delighted that the Prime Minister has made social care a priority and pledged to consider social care as being of equal importance to the NHS. I know that everyone in this House and across our nation wants us to get social care done.

However, we must not forget that behind our health and social care workers there are many others in the community who have helped the NHS. Robert Holland, an engineer from Dinnington, offered to use his engineering expertise to convert tyre inflation equipment to hospital ventilators. Cawthorne’s Travel has been laying on free buses to take NHS workers to Rotherham General Hospital. Local groups, such as the Thurcroft coronavirus action group, led valiantly by Cath MacCartan and Diane Oxley, have been doing such great work for our community. Those selfless actions are just the tip of the iceberg in Rother Valley.

I ask the House how best we can recognise and reward health and social care workers, but also those who have done so much to help the NHS. People in Rother Valley have already taken this matter in their own hands. For example, coaches, parents and players of Laughton FC’s under-11s have already been fundraising for hampers for NHS workers. Mark Kelsall from Maltby has been creating wonderful oil paintings of local NHS staff. Shaun and Halle Salmon created an amazing Lego superhero mural that is now in the reception of Rotherham Hospital. Those are just a few ways that the people of Rother Valley have given back. For my part, I am proud to have instituted the Rother Valley hero awards for this very purpose.

I contend that nationally we must do the same by rewarding campaign medals to our British heroes who have fought the virus. My constituent Andrew Gardner of Thurcroft suggested to me that we should hold a memorial event for health and social care workers, which would take place in Whitehall much like the events on Remembrance Sunday. I believe that that proposal merits serious consideration and should be taken forward. Ultimately, it is of the utmost importance that the House pursues all avenues, including looking at pay and rewards, in recognising and rewarding the heroism of our health and social care workers, and the selflessness of those who have helped the NHS both in Rother Valley and across the United Kingdom. Without them, we would not have been able to pull through this crisis.