A union is calling for Scotland’s care system to be transformed into a national care service after the coronavirus pandemic.
Unison said adult social care has been the “forgotten frontline” in the response to the crisis, with deaths in care homes rising even as they declined in hospitals.
In a report titled Care After Covid: A Vision For Social Care In Scotland, the union said the social care sector was “woefully under-prepared” for the pandemic.
It said an inadequate testing programme and employer pressure on care workers to attend work against public health advice meant they were exposed to “significantly higher” risk of contracting Covid-19.
Unison said there needs to be substantial extra investment in social care as a matter of urgency, and that the social care sector needs to be seen as an important economic sector providing high-quality, well-paid jobs.
Unison Scottish secretary Mike Kirby said: “If this pandemic has taught us anything, it is that competent, confident, properly rewarded workforces improve the quality of care they can provide.
“In short, improving training, standards, pay, and fair working conditions improves the lives of vulnerable people who rely on care services.
“For too long the care system has been weighted towards price and profit. Underpaid, undervalued and undermined staff are at breaking point. The Covid-19 crisis has exposed just how desperately the care sector needs reform.
“The NHS and local government workforce terms and conditions set a benchmark. Any reform must build on the few positives to come from the pandemic – that care staff are highly skilled people, providing quality care, despite the many challenges they face.
“Never again should there be vulnerable people dying in their thousands in care homes because of poor planning, ignorance, or the pursuit of profits.
“Fundamental reform to create a system fit for the future is not optional, it is essential.”
The union said care staff must be paid at least the Scottish Living Wage – or at least £10 an hour until the Living Wage reaches this level – and called for a new standard employment contract including sick pay, contracted hours and payment for all the time they are on duty.
Unison said the aspiration over time should be to deliver the vast majority of social care through public funding, which, it said, would begin to remove some of the differences in service quality between NHS and social care services.
The report makes a series of recommendations, including that everyone working in the care sector should undergo a minimum level of training to drive forward professionalisation and raise standards, and that care workers should be added to the government’s shortage occupation list.