Saving Social Care: my interview with author Neil Eastwood

I have recently interviewed Social Care workforce expert and author Neil Eastwood about his new book “Saving Social Care”  and why if you work in social care, you might want to read it.

Read on to find out what Neils top tips are and what you should do first!

What inspired you to write a book about Recruitment in Social Care?

It was early in my first senior role with a care provider when I learned that we turned over almost 100% of our staff in the previous 12 months. I thought we must have a huge retention problem but on investigation a lot was caused by poor recruitment: an over-reliance on internet job boards and job centres. We recruited too many people who just needed any job, not those who had a calling for the work. That inspired me to find a better way. Eight years later, I felt I had something valuable to say.

So, tell me about your history in the sector how and why did you get into it?

My first paid social care role was in 1976, encouraged by my parents. My father was a vicar, so helping the vulnerable in the parish was a huge focus. It was always prioritised over personal gain and I think that stayed with me over the years and working in the sector feels like the right place to be. More recently I worked in several healthcare roles before taking a senior management position with a national care provider in 2009.

‘Saving Social Care’ is quite a big statement to make… what makes you think you are qualified to write about this?

It’s true that I chose a grand title but there is nothing more important than a quality workforce in our sector and it will only get harder to find. Recruitment and retention is already the number one risk for providers and we haven’t even begun to see how bad this will get in the coming years. If this isn’t addressed now then many vulnerable people will go without care and support.

What makes me qualified? Well, I have obsessed about this single issue for eight years, talking to hundreds of providers around the world and have read most academic research on this topic as well as my own experience as a provider. So, that probably makes me quite odd, but hopefully qualified.

Neil Whiteboard Saving Social Care

Is it that bad, does Social Care need saving?

Yes. It is bad but it’s going to get much worse if we continue to recruit the same way and don’t take enough steps to make staff feel respected. We can’t wait for the Government to do something, and frankly, they couldn’t solve this alone anyway. Every care provider needs to prioritise recruitment and retention and make their processes as efficient as they can. This is what the book is all about.

Successive Governments have always kicked the thorny issue of funding into the long grass, what advice would you give Theresa May on saving Social Care?

Richard Humphries at the King’s Fund has a great graphic of all the recent Social Care Green Papers which he can just about squeeze onto a single slide. So, I think the time for consultation is nearly up. I don’t know Theresa May but I sense Social Care is now much higher up her agenda than with previous Governments. My advice would be to focus on two areas where policy can make the most impact: improving the profile of social care and professionalising the workforce. This means building a social care brand with the public, for example by wrapping social care in the NHS brand; and introducing registration for care workers. This will help make it perceived as a more ‘respectable’ job. There’s much more to add but that’ll do for now.

Is it all about the money?

It’s a lot about the money when trying to attract people into the sector but much less about the money to keep great staff. Of course, it is important that frontline staff are fairly paid, but money won’t bring in better care staff. In fact, it risks attracting those just focused on the pay rate. That’s why we need to be creative with where we source new staff.

How long did it take you to write Saving Social Care from start to finish, did you do it in bursts or all in one go?

I wrote Saving Social Care in one burst over about three weeks… once I started, I couldn’t seem to stop. Then I spent several months refining and reviewing it myself as well as getting feedback from key figures in the sector. That was the hardest part – going back over the text again and again. Luckily I had a great publisher who was very supportive and encouraging.

Where did you do your research from?

My research comes from multiple sources. I was a provider myself of course, with nearly 10,000 staff, I have spoken to hundreds of care employers as well as sector experts, care workers and managers and read every piece of academic research I could find for over eight years. This was across the United States, Canada, Australia, Mainland Europe and the UK.

You used a lot from the USA, can their market be compared to ours here in the UK?

Well there are structural and cultural differences of course, but at its heart every paid-for care sector has caring people and human relationships. That is universal.

You must be relieved now; did you think about giving up at any stage?

I must admit that I thought writing a book was simply reaching 40,000 words but I was badly mistaken! Creating a logical chapter structure, maintaining a consistent tone of voice and making it accessible and enjoyable for busy managers takes a lot of effort. That is what took the time. I have a new-found respect for authors now!

Who is Saving Social Care aimed at, is it a new provider just starting out or perhaps someone with more experience?

It’s meant for anyone with an interest in or tasked with recruiting and retaining a quality frontline care workforce. Although I wrote it as a practical guide that someone just starting out could get value from; as Vic Rayner, Executive Director of the National Care Forum kindly said, “this book has something for even the most experienced HR leader.”

Of all the things in Saving Social Care, what are the top three anyone reading this should action?

That will likely be different for each reader as they may have specific recruitment or retention challenges, but if I had to summarise the top three themes for me, they are:

  1. Diversify your recruitment away from relying on sources where the motivation of the applicant is about needing a job
  2. Work to offer candidates a five-star application experience
  3. Actively and relentlessly appreciate your workforce and ensure all managers and supervisors do the same

Professor Martin Green, the Chief Executive of Care England said this book is “a vital resource for any care provider”… that must have made you smile?

Martin has been a real encouragement and a great supporter of the book – as has everyone who participated or reviewed it. The reaction to Saving Social Care has been a real surprise to me and I am very grateful. Writing it was a very solitary process so you never quite know how it will be received. I was not expecting this!

You are a well-known speaker in the sector on issues around recruiting and retention, was there ever a time you thought writing a book was a bad idea as people would rather see you live?

Great question! I did wonder if I could translate my speaking style into a book. Overall though, I had so much I wanted to share on the topic and could never cover it all through presenting. A book was the obvious medium to do that – although it took one of my clients, Sergio Mesen, to tell me to do it!

Anyone who has seen your presentations live will have seen your hand-drawn pictures… are they going to be a feature in this book?

Yes! The hand-drawn images are in. I wanted it to be familiar to anyone who has attended one of my presentations, so the book is peppered with them.

How have you managed to cram everything into 230 pages? Surely that must mean a 2nd book is coming?

I think writing a book must be something like childbirth. Immediately afterwards that is the last thing you want to do again, but before too long it seems like a great idea! There is certainly enough material to write more. Perhaps capturing providers’ practical implementation of some of the ideas in the book? We’ll see.

Thank you for your time today Neil, if people want a copy of Saving Social Care from where can they get it?

You are welcome Andrew. Thanks for the great questions and your support for my work. Saving Social Care is available on Amazon as either a Kindle or Paperback. You can find it by clicking here.

Saving Social Care

About the author

Andrew interview Saving Social Care

Andrew is the founder of two social care recruitment businesses AJ Recruitment and turro he is also a founder of AJ Community Care a domiciliary care business. He is a keen blogger and speaker on issues in the sector on the recruitment of people. Prior to that, he spent a number of years working in senior roles in the retail sector.

Neil Saving Social Care

Neil Eastwood is the founder of Sticky People Ltd and speaker, blogger, researcher and commentator on care worker recruitment and retention. He has spent many years studying the best practices of care recruiters around the world. Previously he was a director at a 10,000 staff UK homecare provider and studied at Harvard Business School. His first book, Saving Social Care, has just been published.