To ask Her Majesty's Government what progress they are making on establishing social care apprenticeships; and how voluntary registration of social care workers will assist apprentices and staff to provide the quality of care required in domiciliary and community settings.
My Lords, apprenticeships and voluntary registration for social care workers are part of the vision set out in the care and support White Paper and will contribute to improving quality of care. The latest figures report that more than 60,000 apprenticeships have started in 2011-12. A system of assured voluntary registers will help to support the delivery of quality care by enabling individuals to demonstrate that they meet set standards of education, training and competence.
I thank the Minister for his response and welcome the progress being made. As he knows, apprentices will join the current social care workforce of 1.6 million, more than two-thirds of whom now work in the voluntary, independent and private sectors or are employed directly by service users in their homes. Given the Government's desire to have only a voluntary register for social care staff, can the Minister explain to the House how consistent quality and dignified care are to be delivered across this fragmented employer base?
My Lords, I agree that quality in the apprenticeship programme is essential and the Government are committed to the pursuit of quality. The noble Baroness will know that from April next year the role of NICE is to be expanded to embrace social care, and no doubt it will focus on quality standards in that area. The care and support White Paper acknowledges the need to ensure that there are enough skilled people to deliver high-quality care in the future. We believe that expanding apprenticeships in social care will involve a continual driving up of the apprenticeship offer. To ensure high quality, all apprenticeships need to entail a rigorous period of learning and the practice of new skills under approved training providers. That involves a minimum of 12 months for a 16 to 18 year-old; it also applies to adult apprenticeships.
Yes, my Lords. Health and social care is the second largest area of apprenticeships in the country. We think that they provide a route for the young people the noble Lord has described to acquire skills and add to the capacity and capability of the social care workforce. They also provide a rung on the ladder to more senior positions in young people's career progression.
My noble friend will know that, apart from those who are apprentices, a great many people are currently serving in the area of social care for whom in-service training would be extremely useful. I am talking about older people. Can he tell us whether, in the training discussions held in the NHS and in social care, any plans are being made to try to provide at least some in-service training for people already working in the field?
My Lords, a great deal of work is going on, not least in the field of leadership. As I have mentioned, the National Institute for Clinical Excellence, soon to be the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, will be issuing quality standards in this area. Skills for Care is also working to refine and improve the standards that social workers need to adhere to-and, of course, social workers as opposed to social care apprentices are statutorily regulated.
My Lords, the noble Earl and the House will have been shocked by a number of recent reports about the exploitation of the vulnerability of people who are receiving social care, either in institutions or in their own homes. Can the noble Earl assure the House that the Government will do everything they can to ensure clear managerial accountability for the quality of care that is delivered, and will ask the inspectorates to make sure that they will do what they can to assess the quality in the different parts of social care services?
The noble Lord makes some centrally important points. The CQC, which is the regulator of national minimum standards in this area, is very clear that the need to safeguard the vulnerable is one of the most important tasks that it has to assure itself about when inspecting providers. The role that employers play is key here and he is right to point out that it is the responsibility of management to ensure not only that those working for them have the right skills but that there is also the right supervision, for apprentices in particular.
My Lords, can the Minister assure the House that a voluntary scheme will not allow those very people who have a culture of not caring or of neglect-we know that happens from time to time in this sector-not to take up the option of voluntary registration? Surely it is most important in this field that we protect people from the very people who may well not take voluntary action.
My Lords, accreditation by the Professional Standards Authority will help foster high standards, because it will allow practitioners and people who use services to distinguish more easily between registers that meet nationally accredited standards that those that do not; and therefore between those social care workers who are accredited to a high standard and those who are not. In addition, we have commissioned Skills for Health and Skills for Care to develop a code of conduct and recommended induction and minimum training standards for healthcare support workers, as she will know. The key here is to progress to a system that encourages employers to employ those with the right qualifications and for users to be able to see that the employees in an organisation are accredited.