Beyond Covid-19

It might seem a bit premature to talk about ‘beyond Covid-19’, especially when it now appears that the UK is likely to be in some degree of lockdown for at least the next six months. However, at some point in the not-too-distant future this particular crisis will pass, and then the question will be: what now? In this article I want to look at what the ‘what now’ question could mean for social care providers.

From feedback I’m getting from individual providers, and from discussions on social media, the main focus at the moment in residential and home care services is on trying to maintain a level of service in face of increasing staff shortages. For residential services there is also the added worry of being able to contain a possible Covid-19 outbreak in what is surely the worst possible environment in terms of vulnerability to the virus. This hasn’t been helped by reports that NHS trusts are trying to discharge patients into care homes before they have been tested for Covid-19.

I don’t know for sure, but I suspect that there is a great temptation to put lot of routine management tasks on hold for the duration. I’m thinking particularly about things like non-essential audits (and perhaps essential ones as well?), quality assurance (QA) reports, supervisions, appraisals, training, etc. If managers are having to spend a great deal of their time simply recompiling staff rotas because of staff members going off sick and self-isolating, then QA and governance is probably not at the top of their to-do lists.

Although this is perfectly understandable, I also think this could be storing up trouble further down the line. One of the challenges of Covid-19 is that in many ways it is simply accentuating and exposing problems that were already there. In a previous post I discussed the problem of ‘fire-fighting’ and crisis management as being the norm in many services. Clearly, in the face of a major pandemic such as Covid-19, the ability to effectively crisis manage is a major asset. Furthermore, and in a rather perverse way, being in perpetual crisis mode makes things easier, at least in the short term. It is clear what the task in hand is and it’s simply a matter of all hands-on deck. All the nuances and subtleties of management, for example trying to maintain an empathic management style, tend to go out the window as they are sacrificed for the greater good.

However, by their very nature, and as I mentioned earlier, such crises do eventually pass and then you are back to the question of ‘what now?’ Going back to the above example of sacrificing an empathic management style, how are your staff going to reward you for adopting a more draconian form of management during the crisis? Most likely by voting with their feet! Just remember Winston Churchill’s fate at the end of the Second World War. He was the people’s hero all the time the war was going on, but come the peace people wanted a different type of government and a different type of society so he and his party got ‘rewarded’ by being booted out of office.

So rather than waiting for the ‘what now?’ it might be better to find ways to maintain good management practices even in the depth of the crisis.  This will probably require some imaginative thinking and innovative ways of working, but in the long term you will be rewarded not only by keeping your staff team on board but also not having to deal with a horrendous backlog of ‘non-essential’ management work.