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Monday, 16 February 2015

Engage: EU-wide project looks to professionalise care work

Written by Dr Carolyn Downs

This winter provided more evidence of a looming problem in homecare. Shortages of staff to provide care for older people in their own homes was partly to blame for the 'bed-blocking' in hospitals that led to admissions crises across the UK.

Shortages of homecare workers are a global problem (according to the World Health Organisation) and almost half of UK employers surveyed recently found it difficult to recruit care workers. By 2025 the UK is expected to need up to a further million homecare workers.

The solution for recruiters in the past decade has been an increasing reliance on immigrant workers within the EU. This approach has ultimately only made the situation worse by emphasising the low status of homecare work and a cycle of low skills and low standards. With  no EU-wide standard or regulation framework, recruiters have had no benchmark for quality and seen problems in enforcing standards and preventing cases of mistreatment. Migrant workers are far less able to ask for or receive training and career development, and so the cycle goes on.

Care work needs professionalisation, a clear route for all entrants into the area to get training and progress through to professional healthcare roles like clinical support, nursing or physiotherapy. Employees will see a genuine professional career ahead of them, not a dead end. Employers get more applicants, and more motivated staff. Most importantly, the standard of care for older people and patients will improve and be more consistent.

What's needed now is the routemap and kick-start to professionalisation, and that's the aim of the newly announced HELPcare project (Healthcare Workers Employability Learning and Professionalisation). An EU-wide scheme funded by Erasmus+, the project will be led by Lancaster University Management School with partners from Greece, Poland, Italy and Bulgaria. Firstly we'll be setting up a framework for the professionalization and regulation of care work that can be adapted across the EU. We'll work alongside those currently providing home and healthcare services, vocational education and training establishment, and the commissioners of homecare for older people to develop the right model of cooperative Continuous Professional Development and training that works on a practical level. We'll be reaching out to those involved in homecare and healthcare for older people, including those in the informal economy and family members providing care for relatives.

An ageing society and health policies that are actively pushing for more people to receive care outside of hospitals means the homecare staff shortage is going to be a key issue of the next decade. Professionalisation will get to the heart of the homecare issue - but it'll take concerted action from everyone involved to break the low status and shortage cycle.

About the Author

Dr Carolyn Downs is an academic with Lancaster University Management School,, a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and a qualified school teacher.

For more information on getting involved with HELPcare contact: