There have been very few upsides to this pandemic, but enhanced collaboration and a renewed focus on tackling society’s social, economic and health inequalities has been one of them.
COVID-19 has made us all acutely aware how some sections of our increasingly complex and diverse population have been impacted more than others, from young carers, to black and minority ethnic communities, to those struggling to make ends meet. Common to all these groups is another, whose health, wellbeing and aspirations have been underserved – even misunderstood - for far too long: women.
Again, the pandemic has shone a light on the particular challenges women face in the workplace, at home or in higher education. This inequality of awareness, provision or support is also more pronounced in certain sectors of our economy.
More than two thirds of the social care workforce are women – they have provided dedicated, consistent and high quality care to thousands of people in care homes and other settings across the country, long before coronavirus reached our shores. They have done this whilst juggling their own family responsibilities, education and health issues.
It should come as no surprise the social care workforce is being urged to respond to a call for evidence to help shape a new Women’s Health Strategy. Its overarching purpose is to reduce health inequalities, improve wellbeing and make sure services meet their needs.
Minister for Care, Helen Whately, and Chief Nurse for Adult Social Care, Professor Deborah Sturdy, recently convened a roundtable of women working in social care to discuss the health issues affecting them. My colleagues from Care England were also in attendance.
More broadly, the government is urging women who work in social care to talk about their own personal experiences of this sector. Like everyone else, the pandemic has taken a mental as well as physical toll, particularly in the early days of the crisis, when little was known about how, why and where the virus was spreading.
Roundtable participants bore this out, expressing feelings of heightened anxiety and diminished physical health, no doubt exacerbated by irregular shift patterns, lack of sleep and concern for the health of colleagues and loved ones.
These issues are not unique to global pandemics of course, but they do set the bar by which their resolution should be judged. The Women’s Health Strategy will be guided by the experiences of people from all walks of life and in all sorts of situations – extreme or otherwise.
I’m told there’s been an incredible response to the call for evidence so far, with 100,000 women, organisations, clinicians and carers submitting their views. To make it truly comprehensive though, we need even more responses. That’s why the submission deadline has been extended to 13 June. If you haven’t contributed yet, I urge you to do so now. It doesn’t take long and you can be sure your comments will be reviewed and added to the sum of knowledge in this important exercise.
My organisation, Care England, the largest representative body for independent providers of adult social care, very much hopes this new resolve to improve women’s health can overturn some of the historical inequities that continue to be played out in the workplace and society. It may be called a Women’s Health Strategy, but it has the potential to benefit us all. I’ve had my say, now in its final week, make sure you have yours.
Director of Policy