The NHS in Wales will collapse unless social care is given a much higher national status – as an industry of strategic importance on a par with roads and railways.

That was the dire warning from John Kennedy, director of care services for the charitable Joseph Rowntree Foundation, when he gave the keynote address to members of Care Forum Wales (CFW) at their annual meeting.

The meeting at the Catrin Finch Centre at Glyndwr University in Wrexham was attended by nearly 100 people, including independent care providers from across Wales and their guests.

The forum is a not-for-profit organisation set up in 1993 to give independent care providers a single professional voice with which to speak on how to provide better quality care for those who need it most.

Mr Kennedy, who has more than 30 years’ experience in the care industry, recently produced a milestone report for the Foundation which has been widely praised for the insight it shows in putting the sector under the spotlight.

In introducing him, Mario Kreft MBE, the Chair of Care Forum Wales, described it as “the biggest dose of common sense in our sector for many a year.”

Mr Kennedy gave CFW members a run-down on the report and how it was prepared over the course of 12 months, which included visiting scores of care homes across England and Scotland to sound out their views.

And speaking of the findings he stressed: “Social care has to be of a higher status.

“In governmental terms it should be an industry of national strategic importance and should be looked at in the same way we look at roads and railways.

“It is fundamental to our workforce and well-being and the health service is going to collapse unless we get social care sorted out.

“In the recent General Election it was never mentioned and the reason is that we have not been able to speak out as effectively to government and ministers as other industries have.”

Giving the background to his report, he explained: “It seems to me that the care sector has always been in crisis and things never seem to change.

“I wanted to get under its skin and find the truth of what needs to be done to ensure that it works properly.”

Mr Kennedy explained the relationship-centred approach focused on building positive relationships and connections between and among older residents, care home staff, managers and with commissioners and stakeholders like politicians.

He added: “Everyone working in care knows that the quality of the relationship you have with people enhances lives.

“But those relationships have to be different – you can’t McDonaldise a care home.”

Mr Kennedy said his report had also highlighted the fact that care home staff were often poorly regarded despite their hard work and dedication to the job.

To illustrate this he said: “If, after a stroke, I was not able to look after myself properly I wouldn’t want somebody who was on the minimum wage, a bit under-staffed and not always completely trusted to be responsible for my care.

“I would like someone who has the time and empathy to look after me properly. But you have to give people the time to develop that empathy.

“If you put me in a situation where I am overworked and under-resourced I will be dehumanised and it will take a great effort by managers to work against that negativity.”

Looking at the way care homes relate to their local communities, Mr Kennedy said that they were too often regarded as “the place on the hill with locked doors” but argued that people from outside the homes should be invited in to meet staff and residents more regularly.

Another area for improvement, said Mr Kennedy, was the way the care home sector was often portrayed in the press went something went wrong.

“This lead to some staff feeling they are constantly under fire but if everyone was more supportive of the sector as a whole we’d probably end up with more care homes and those homes being more human.

“You cannot inspect quality into the system,” he said.

On the bureaucracy faced by care home managers, Mr Kennedy said: “I’d ask whether we need all the paperwork that has to be done.

“There is a huge amount of duplication, with the same things being prepared in a myriad formats for different people.”

He suggested that to streamline bureaucracy there could be one suite of “simple and understandable” paperwork which was acceptable to a number of agencies.

Mr Kennedy also advocated a new professional body for care home managers which would help give them a powerful voice.

Mario Kreft MBE, the Chair of Care Forum Wales, said: “John Kennedy’s report is the biggest dose of common sense in our sector for many a year.

“There are huge challenges facing Care Forum Wales which mean it is vital that the commissioners, regulators and providers of care all have to work towards the same end.

“The care system is at absolute breaking point in Wales and John Kennedy’s report shows it doesn’t need to be this way.

“The overwhelming point of the report is to show that things can be done differently and that is what Care Forum Wales is calling for.

“We have really got to decide collectively that Wales has care services that are fit for the future.”

He added: “John Kennedy said that our workforce are not getting the respect they deserve.

“We all have to ensure that social care managers are given the support and recognition they deserve to do the job and that we’re not always going to blame them when things go wrong.”