Regulating in a pandemic: Introducing 'VUCA'

Featured article - 10 July 2020
By Interim Chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Social Care Council, Patricia Higgins

Patricia Higgins

There is no doubt we live in a ‘VUCA world’ – volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. The COVID-19 pandemic catapulted us from our ‘normal’ and overnight turned it upside down. While we’ve quickly adjusted our lives and how we do business, this crisis also holds an open invitation for innovative transformation and reset of workforce regulation.

On 19th March 2020 we closed the doors of the Northern Ireland Social Care Council and moved to remote working – something we never would have thought possible. We are not unique, workforce regulators across the UK responded to the crisis with speed establishing emergency registers, streamlining processes and procedures, using technology in ways never contemplated before, and in many ways realising new and more effective ways to deliver our business.

The pressing question and focus for our organisation was how we would support our registrants entering the most difficult time in their career. We register social workers and social care workers – 47,500 on the frontline working in statutory, voluntary and independent sectors, providing care and support to the most vulnerable people in our community. Our model of regulation has workforce development and improvement at its core. Our modus operandi is working in partnership with our stakeholders. Partnership, collaboration and co-production are at the heart of our values and our relationships allowed us to very quickly identify the support our registrants needed.

Going digital

We have invested in the development of technology to develop an e-learning platform for registrants. So, in a matter of weeks we were able to produce a series of digital learning resources to support practice - good infection control; having difficult conversations about death and dying; developing resilience and supporting well-being during the pandemic; and responding to isolation and loneliness with those who are shielding. We directly targeted our communication to our registrants, providing tangible help and support. The response has been extremely positive and our analytics show over 42,000 views to date.

Responding with partners

Workforce regulation is focussed on public protection – but it is often viewed through the narrow lens of registration and fitness to practise. However, the greatest impact on public protection is ensuring a competent and confident workforce. In establishing the social care councils across the UK, Government recognised the unique connection between regulation, workforce development and improvement. The pandemic brought this into sharper focus, making the role of the regulator more pronounced as registrants looked to us to help them navigate these unchartered waters. The speed and agility with which we responded in collaboration with our partners, provided an opportunity for us to reach out to our registrants in a way we hadn’t before and has helped to change the perception of what a regulator is here to do.

Workforce regulation is an integral part of the health and social care system and the pandemic has shown that as a regulator we are also a significant part of the frontline, supporting our social workers and social care workers to provide safe and effective care. Working together - we are making a difference.

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