By Debbie le Quesne

Archive for July 2012

Undercover Boss – priceless carers in a £10bn industry

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There are times it appears when all the planets align and unplanned events find unexpected symmetry.

I’ve been championing the role of our carers in recent days in this blog –  inspired by those committed staff who so willingly supported a summer fair on their day off.

And they brought their friends and families too so that a residents’ fund could be boosted.

Last night Channel 4’s Undercover Boss programme gave a much larger audience insight to the commitment shown by these often, remarkable people.

Every time there is a care programme on television my heart sinks because it’s nearly always a negative portrayal. But in this episode, which focused on HC-One – the people who took over a third of the Southern Cross homes, it was hearteningly different.

The managing director of HC-one went undercover at one of her own care homes in an attempt to understand why beds were still empty and why staff were leaving.

The programme followed nurse Pam Finnis, formerly regional director of Southern Cross. She is now MD with HC-One and last worked on the floor


as a carer 17 years ago.

During her time undercover Pam found a number of incredibly dedicated employees, some who work on their days off to spend more time with residents.

She said: “Working in care is like being part of a huge family. We’re all different, we can be ourselves and we’ve all got something to give. This experience has really emphasised this point to me.

“We have some incredible staff at HC-One, staff who frequently go the extra mile to ensure that residents are provided with the kindest care in the country.”

She also said that taking part in the programme had brought home the extent of the challenges that the care sector faces.

She has now pledged to “meet those challenges” and no doubt there will be real insight now how to train and motivate the workforce and up the bar on the level of care.

HC-One came into being last November when it took over the operation of 241 cares homes across the country.

The company provides care to more than 10,000 people and employs more than 14,000 staff.

It was a brave move to expose the home to scrutiny of the film crew but it paid off brilliantly.

Chairman of HC-One, Dr Chai Patel, said: “Our aim is to provide the kindest care in the country and we decided to take part in Undercover Boss because of the confidence that we have in our dedicated members of staff.

“We feel that taking part in the programme provided us with an opportunity to counter some of the misunderstandings that exist about care, as well as an opportunity to show to the wider public the hard work and kindness that goes on every day across Britain.

“Television with a mission is an important contribution to our society and I believe that this programme approaches the care sector in a very balanced, fair and sensitive way. It highlights some amazing people.”

And those amazing people were the real focus of the programme. I was touched by their commitment and kindness and I know only too well there are countless homes where the same story of dedication is replicated.

Well done Channel 4 – thanks for this exposure. Caring for the elderly is a £10bn industry the programme informed us, but I know the careres are priceless.

Written by debbielq

July 31, 2012 at 8:18 am

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Code of conduct for training?

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Skills for Care and Skills for Health are looking at introducing a code of conduct and minimum training standards for care workers and adult social workers.

The two bodies have been jointly commissioned by the Department of Health (DH) to create a ‘fit for purpose’ code.

And they will also decide on a minimum training standard that will help ensure workers are supported in delivering safe and effective care.

The aim is simple: To, as carehome,co.uk posted, “identify the standards of training and practice required for adult social care workers working in support of health and social care professionals, independently, for CQC (Care Quality Commission) registered residential care providers or as domiciliary care workers in England.”

Martin Green, chief executive of English Community Care Association (ECCA), chair of Care Providers Alliance and DH independent sector dementia champion was quoted as saying: “The social care workforce needs more recognition and the development of minimum training standards and a code of conduct is an essential building block for improving the professional status of social care workers.

“I am really pleased that Skills for Care and Skills for Health are developing this project and I would urge all care providers to engage with it, and to voice their views on this important issue.”

Views? Oh yes, they want us to have our say and you can do it confidence. Go to http://www.skillsforhealth.org.uk/about-us/consultations/minimum-standards-consultation/

The proposals are to be lauded. It always good to raise the bar knowing that our more vulnerable members of society should get a better deal. But along with many with whom I work, I know only too well that excellence in care is as much a heart thing as it is a training issue.

My other concern is the old chestnut of cost. Who is paying for the training and will this be another burden for the care providers to shoulder? How much more financial drain can they take with margins at most homes cut to the bone?

It’s wholly good to offer as much training as we can, but if it is rigorously policed, as this appears to imply with an approved “register”, then aren’t we creating yet another tier of regulation in what must be the most regulated industry in the UK.

Consultation on the proposed standards and minimum training requirements is taking place across both the health and social care sectors. I’m sure we’ll have something to say, but I’ll take counsel from the board first.

Feedback is being sought from patients, the public and service users, support workers, carers, commissioners, employers, professional bodies and providers.

The feedback from the consultation may be used by a body (or bodies) wishing to establish a voluntary register(s) for healthcare support workers and adult social care workers in England as part of its standards for inclusion on a register.

Written by debbielq

July 30, 2012 at 7:16 am

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Gems in our great care ‘family’

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The sun shone, the crowds gathered and there was music, food and fun.

It was a perfect day for that essentially British event – the summer fair. But there was an added ingredient to the proceedings at Wychbury Care Home, Pedmore, when I attended their annual fundraiser last Saturday.

It was the unrelenting enthusiasm of the carers, many of whom had turned out on their day off to support or help. They brought their families and friends to spend hard-earned cash to boost the residents’ fund.

I have considered all week the commitment and brilliant work ethic of these people, who frankly are really only appreciated by those with some insight to their work.

Undoubtedly, caring is a calling – much the same as ministers of religion. They are not paid inflated salaries and along with their employers are often misrepresented in the media.

Are these people workaholics? No. Are they driven to rise the career ladder and become movers and shakers within the industry? No. Are they hard-wired to never switch off from work? Not really.

So what is if that makes them turn out on their days off to support an annual event with strawberries and too many nice things that pile on the calories?

Simply, I believe, it’s their work ethic. The French call it raison d’être –reason for existence. It is a commodity which cannot be generated by good training modules or creative management techniques.

I know too that what occurred at Wyhchbuy happens at care and nursing homes all over the country. I can think of few other examples where so many are so willing to give their time free to ‘work’ on a day off.

Dudley Chairman Daniel Johnson, who runs the home, was helped by his mother and sister who both contributed to the running of stalls. It was a real family thing – but that day at least, there was a bigger family to call on – the carers.

They have a remarkable ability to never cease surprising me. Undoubtedly, they are true gems. Long may they sparkle.


Written by debbielq

July 27, 2012 at 11:07 am

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The Olympics: Why Victoria is already a golden girl

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Who could miss the fact that we are on the eve of a momentous event? As the Olympic Games are due to start there’s a sudden surge of patriotism as we all wish our athletes a glorious, golden success.

Suddenly, it appears, regions beyond the capital have woken up to the fact the Olympics after years of planning are at last here.

But I want to draw your attention to an equally noble event – The Paralympic Games – which run from August 29 to September 9.

There’s a local heroine, Victoria Bromley from Wolverhampton, who will represent Britain in the table tennis competition.

The 26-year-old carer is just like any other athlete – committed to her sport, training some 25 hours a week, except she has a learning disability.

It will be the first time in 12 years that these Games have allowed learning disabled to compete.

The International Paralympics Committee imposed a controversial ban after the Sydney Games in 2000, which saw the Spanish basketball team stripped of its gold medals after some members were accused of faking learning disabilities. The lifting of the ban means people with learning disabilities are now permitted to compete in certain events in three sports: swimming, athletics and table tennis.

What a triumph for commonsense and these remarkable people who can now carry the flag for Britain.

In a report in The Guardian, Victoria says: “It was such an enormous surprise. I couldn’t believe it. I’m training really hard, and really looking forward to going to London.”

Victoria has a mild disability that affects her ability with literacy and numeracy. She adds says she could not have done it without the support of her partner, friends, teachers, and in particular, Special Olympics – a global organisation that works year-round with people with learning difficulties.

Worldwide attention is focused on the Olympics and let’s hope the Paralympic Games attract a good global audience too.

It’s a wonderful opportunity to champion people like Victoria. Learning disabilities regularly fall under the radar of the media and she has managed to give those with similar problems some national exposure.

There’s clear message – this is all about ability, about what can be achieved, rather than what we must expect.

Why has it taken so long to get these people back into the Games? There are 1.2 million people in this country [England] with a learning disability. Organisations such as Mencap have campaigned against abuse and discrimination against people with learning difficulties and their exclusion from the Paralympics and our care sector continually presses for a fairer deal for these people too.

I cannot help feeling there are an awful lot of damaging prejudices that are either not seen, or more likely ignored.

As public spending cuts bite, day centres which many learning disabled people used, have taken a big hit. It’s another isolating problem for then which we now need to address.

The true Olympic spirit of people like Victoria inspires me to work harder for those within the WMCA whose working lives attempt to bring a greater sense of worth and wellbeing to the learning disabled.

Victoria, I wish you well. Go for gold girl!

Written by debbielq

July 26, 2012 at 8:50 am

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Radical reforms proposal in Staffordshire

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Raising the quality of care is the heartbeat of all good care providers, so yesterday’s news from Staffordshire County Council that it intends to radically overhaul adult social care should be good news.

The trail-blazing measures are detailed in the A Revolution in Care Quality a Staffordshire Green Paper from the council – which in April formed the UK’s largest integration of local authority and NHS care services.

Tougher monitoring of care providers, naming and shaming poor performers and raising wages for care staff are part of a package of measures put forward by one council to raise quality.

In an article published on the council’s website www.staffordshire.gov.uk Matthew Ellis, the council’s Cabinet Member for Adults Wellbeing says the green paper, which is being issued for both regional and national debate, promises to shape the quality of care for the next generation.

County Councillor Ellis is quoted: “There has been a lot of debate nationally about quality of care, but the time for talking is over.

“It is more than time we took action to demonstrate as a country that we truly value the elderly and more vulnerable members of our community and that we value too the people who we entrust with their care.

“Families need to make informed choices and it is disgraceful, for example, that it is easier to find out about complaints regarding your local take-away than it is on a company caring for a loved one,

“We also need to move away from the ‘menial’ pay mindset and promote caring as a well paid career choice if we are serious about improving the whole experience of care in the UK – and this is what this green paper seeks to deliver.”

Recommendations in the green paper on quality include:

  • Naming organisations – both care providers which have received upheld complaints or where the council has suspended contracts
  • Making caring a career choice – backed up with qualifications, greater training and crucially a decent wage for employees
  • Rewards for providers of excellence and fostering a “zero tolerance” policy for those who fail to improve
  • Providing a better “care experience” for adults of all ages, both in residential care and in their own homes
  • “Mystery shopper” style spot checks as part of monitoring controls

I should be, at this point, ecstatically happy. All these proposals are good, but I have a reality check that troubles me – the depressed international economy, which impacts on the UK and not least, as a care industry we are under financial restraints which even the Government have not clearly outlined how to meet.

Many of the proposals carry a price tag and the council will decide how much it is willing to invest in the two-year initiative following a consultation, which closes on 16 September.

Councillor Ellis adds: “We already deliver some of the highest standards of adult care in the UK, but we think it is time to get even tougher with the minority of providers who fail to deliver the quality of care which families not only expect, but have an absolute right to.

“This green paper is much more than simply providing expected standards, it’s about delivering a raft of measures that will change the whole care culture and asks what quality means, not just to us, but more importantly to the people we care for?

“As part of the largest provider of integrated care in the UK, we have a unique opportunity to set out ground-breaking reforms which have the potential to be mirrored across the UK.”

The website www.communitycare.co.uk reports the council intends to “work with the independent sector towards an accepted transparent working wage” for staff, though it is unclear whether this would be enforced through contracts or whether providers would voluntarily agree to pay it.

It’s heartening that the council wants to reward providers financially for “excellent” quality in their services, but there will need to be a clear criteria for measurement which all carers and care providers understand.

As an association we always support changes that improve care and applaud Staffordshire for this initiative.

But I would like to know how the funding for this potential model for the future of UK care is to be found and how too, our members will be expected to deliver it at the sharp end without substantial increases in their fees.

Answers please . . .

A full copy of the paper and access to the full consultation surveys are available at www.staffordshire.gov.uk/greenpaper

Written by debbielq

July 25, 2012 at 8:09 am

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Drugs, the blame game and why it just isn’t fair

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I always expect the ‘red tops’ Press to present stories in their own inimitable way.

We all are used to sensational headlines whenever the care sector comes on to their radar, but sometimes it’s not just the popular paper that make my blood boil.

I found myself feeling utterly shocked on reading a Telegraph report on the misuse of anti-psychotic drugs where it boldly stated that “care home staff too often used them as a shortcut for managing residents, when more humanity was needed.”

And worse, I thought I was about to read something totally different under the headline “Deadly drugs still given to the elderly”.

The throw-away “managing residents” line was in a worthy piece about statistics published last week on dementia and prescribed drugs.

In the article, The Telegraph stated that “elderly patients in some parts of England are six times more likely to be prescribed potentially deadly drugs than in other areas.”

It went on: “Antipsychotic drugs, designed to treat conditions such as schizophrenia, can be prescribed for patients with dementia to help manage psychological and behavioural symptoms including aggression, shouting and sleep disturbance.

“In 2009 a report found that four in five patients with dementia — 144,000 out of 180,000 — were being given them inappropriately, often to keep them quiet.”

What really upset me – other than the terribly misleading headline – was that Paul Burstow, the care services minister, had said: “More than halving the number of people with dementia receiving anti­psychotics marks a huge change in the right direction.” But the care sector still managed to take a hit. It’s still our fault, it appears, that too many elderly get too many drugs.

Do we really believe that carers hand out these potentially lethal drugs like Smarties? Of course they don’t.

They are prescription drugs and they are administered under the direction of a doctor.

Perhaps it’s the doctors who should be taking the flack, not the embattled carers, who generally do an exceptional job and get little thanks for it.

The figures from the Health and Social Care Information Service showed that the proportion of dementia patients across England being given the drugs has more than halved since 2006, down from 17 to 6.8 per cent.

How good is that!

The statistics reveal that 13 per cent of dementia patients in the North West are being given anti­psychotic drugs, while in London only two per cent of patients receive them. In Yorkshire the prescription rate was nine per cent but the Humber region, showed a figure of only only 2.5 per cent.

Add into the mix last year’s Department of Health warning that these drugs were leading to 1,800 needless deaths a year and we have a sensational tale that somehow leaves me feeling it’s the fault of my care sector workers.

It simply isn’t true.

Maybe I’m a little over sensitive, but I really don’t think so.

I was heartened by the quotes in the story from Jeremy Hughes, the chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Society, who said of the countrywide reduction: “This momentous achievement is not just about statistics, it is about the lives of tens of thousands of people with dementia.

“Other interventions can be used to reduce distress and agitation among people with dementia,” he added.

Mr Burstow said a risk assessment tool to help doctors use the drugs safely and appropriately was being developed.

He most definitely recognised it was the doctors who needed support here.

Please can we spare a thought for our carers and care providers. They really are tired of taking the blame for every single thing that’s just not part of a perfect world.

Carers – the prescribing culprits of deadly drugs. Never. Besides, aren’t all prescription drugs, by definition, potentially harmful? Calming chamomile tea beckons . . .



Written by debbielq

July 24, 2012 at 6:31 am

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Weigh lifting and the fight against dementia

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Summer has arrived, say the weathermen. And what better time to begin a fitness regime, especially in the light of some new research which I stumbled on at the tail end of last week

It appears that “resistance training” – that’s weight lifting to us uninitiated – can help improve memory in conflict resolution tests, attention spans and memory.

The news was announced at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conterence with researchers in Canada saying mild cognitive impairment showed improvement over a 12-month period.

The University of British Columbia study involved 86 women with the condition who were aged between 70 and 80.

Another study, by the National Centre for Geriatrics and Gerontology in Japan found that language ability of a group of 47 older people with mild cognitive impairment improved when they took part in a mixture of aerobic, strength and balance exercises over a 12 month period.

And a third study by a team at University of Pittsburgh on 120 older adults reported moderate intensity walking can grow the region of the brain related to memory.

I like the sound of this. I’m not adverse to exercise and like all of us, my memory needs to improve. Would this regime work with me?

Perhaps I should get a weights machine, a cross trainer, or some other appliance that gives me a jolly good workout.

Maybe the images of me looking like a female version of Arnold Schwarzenegger is not what I want to achieve . . .



But there is a serious message here: Our members have been aware for a long time that people with dementia need stimulation to help stop rapid deterioration. For many sufferers, exercise will be out of the question, but for newly diagnosed people, the research appears to be clear – and it does offer a more positive outlook.

Dr Anne Corbett, Research Manager at Alzheimer’s Society, said: “While weightlifting and workouts may not be everyone’s cup of tea, this research shows once again how important exercise is for the brain.

“We know regular exercise can reduce the risk of developing dementia by up to 45 per cent but these studies show it can also have real benefits for people with cognitive impairment.

“There are 800,000 people living with dementia in the UK. Research like this is crucial to help us provide the best treatment and care for people with mild cognitive impairment and dementia.

“The Prime Minister promised to double investment into research, now we need to make sure it’s spent in the most effective way.”

Must renew my gym membership . . .

Now I need to watch my weigh

Touching on another interesting subject related to Alzheimer’s research . . . I recall reading an article earlier in the year where research suggested that older people who consume a high number of calories may be at greater risk of developing mild cognitive impairment.

With 820,000 people in the UK living with dementia and number expected to rise dramatically with the ageing population, there is a desperate need to understand more about the risk triggers involved. 

Written by debbielq

July 23, 2012 at 7:45 am

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