By Debbie le Quesne

Archive for April 2013

Perceptions are being old and the Cinderella of welfare

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I read recently that growing old is not a life choice. I have also seen articles demonizing the elderly as a burden, blaming them for the housing shortage and for putting the NHS under intolerable strain.

The perception of being old is often misinformed and sometimes down right scary.

In the reforming of social care, I understand that up to 80 per cent of services are now in the private sector – a private sector that is grossly under-funded by a government which wants to use it. I cannot defend poor care, but I understand how it can happen when there are just not enough people on the ground.

For too long, social care has been the Cinderella of the welfare state – that noble enterprise which is now quietly being demolished.

Since the 1980s, more care of older people has been taken out of hospitals and placed in the community. Geriatric wards have been closed and the balance of responsibility has shifted from the government to local authorities.

I have no issue with this devolution, but please, can we have some funding to do the job properly.

Some £30bn each year is saved on community care by frontline family carers, of whom many receive little financial benefit. Add to this the charitable advocacy services for those unable to navigate form filling for entitlements, seeking residential care or just wanting advice, those savings surely must be worth some investment.

Ironically, The Guardian reported the National Pensioners Convention as stating that about £10bn is needed to really make a difference to the way care is delivered and funded – just 1 per cent of the Government spend.

Do I believe that our Cabinet believes our industry is worth it? Not any more. Do we have an odd sense of priority here? I think so. A figure of £228bn was banded about as the cost for bailing out the banks.

Weren’t they part of the private sector too?

Elderly get chance to surf the internet wave

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Not all of certain generation are digitally wired. It’s fact that people like myself would be a geek if I were considerably younger, but some of my contemporaries struggle to send emails and surf the world wide web.

How much more difficult is for our ageing population to engage in the break-neck speed development of technology.

It occurred to me, having read an article that told me the government hopes to boost the value of the economy by £63bn by developing better digital skills across the country, so may of our elderly are being penalised for computer illiteracy.

Evidence suggests that being net savvy can save us time, money, make us feel better connected, less lonely and better informed.

It’s true. By moving house insurance to the AA one West Midlands Care Association member saved the best part of £300. Result!

But so many of our elderly – ironically, those with less means generally – are missing out on these online savings.

Being digitally excluded means getting less for your money, having less access to public and commercial services, to information and advice and to social interaction.

There are a staggering 7.4 million people in the UK who have never used the internet, of which 70 per cent, (6.3 million), are aged over 55.

I believe that economies to be sourced by going digital make being computer literate not just desirable, but down right necessary.

It is clear that we still have work to do to support older people and those involved formally or informally in social care to be digitally capable and confident. For many the fear of “breaking it” is very real and navigating out of problems, impossible.

Fortunately bringing people online requires only the most basic digital literacy.

A few days ago an organisation called Digital Unite held their Spring Online event what they described as a “digital inclusion event.” With free workshops throughout the Midlands and the rest of the UK, it aimed to help the uninitiated fight their technology block.

Libraries, shops, schools, sheltered housing schemes, cafes, community groups, village halls and churches all took part.

Last year thousands of older people and carers were helped to understand basic computer use, many for the first time.

Great idea. Love it!

Good Care Week: We need to change perceptions with a unified voice

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It’s Friday, at the moment it’s sunny (golf calls), the dawn chorus seem to herald that spring may even have arrived and . . . its Good Care Week.

So far its been supported by television presenters, famous stars and singers, local authorities, insurance companies, media businesses, online postings, the West Midlands Care Association and, not least care providers.

Those providers who have posted stories, staged events, reminded us of how good their care is and taken a little time to add their weight to the ‘cause’, are visionary.

They understand the importance of public profile and perception – and they know that creating a gravitas within the industry is the only way to be heard.

Quite why successive governments have given residential care a low priority puzzles me. But I understand why the private sector industry is shrinking. One WMCA member, who I cannot name, shared that his successful home is full and people are queuing up for a place.

And they added that it was time to sell “at this point of success before the market is so starved of finance, private care homes collapse.”

Here is a hugely successful model, but the owner has no confidence in the future.

I’m saddened, because this person represents so many care industry operators. To drive change, we need to be strong, tenacious, pro-active, and together in a common campaign to change perceptions of care at the highest level.

Good Care Week has provided a national platform to be show off excellence in care and I’m heartened by the support its received. But we need more – much more.

Please join with us. Like our Facebook page and visit our new website. Post on our FB just how good you are; tell the world you are worth more than money can buy, that you need it to support families and pay bills just like the rest of us; write to your local MP about Good Care Week to help them raise the status of social care in Parliament; and don’t be silenced.

We all know that good care will carry on beyond this week and I intend with your help to ‘get the message out there’.

Watch this space . . . things are afoot.

Have a good weekend.

Good Care Week: Stars add their backing

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I’m hear again shouting from the rooftops it’s Good Care Week.

Why? Because I truly believe the majority of private sector providers of care defy all the financial odds to deliver excellent care.

Primarily, care is a heart thing – yes it needs to be nurtured with the good training we regularly provide – but you can never substitute the essential ingredient of compassion.

It’s great to see  that journalist, broadcaster and TV presenter Fiona Phillips has gone public in her support of the Good Care Week.

She says: “I am delighted to support the campaign for a Good Care Week. I believe the status of care workers should be raised and that a compulsory professional qualification, along with commensurate salary would help to achieve this.

“The Care Talk campaign aims to equip people who work in social care to raise awareness of this crucial sector locally and help to create a national voice for Good Care Week.”

Singer, actress and TV’s Loose Women star Jane McDonald, has also joined the chorus of support: “I am delighted to be support the Care Talk campaign for the Good Care Week.

“It is important we raise awareness of social care to the general public and the incredible good work that is carried out by care workers 365 days a year 24/7.

“These frontline care workers are dedicated and passionate about caring for the elderly and vulnerable members of our communities. The Good Care Week will really help to raise the profile of these unsung heroes,” she says.

Essex County Council has also been quick to take up the GCW opportunities. More than 100 delegates met at the Weston Homes Community Stadium, Colchester, to swap ideas and experience earlier this week.

The event was organised by Essex County Council and the Essex Workforce Partnership as part of Good Care Week programme.

And another GCW story can be found at http://www.carewatch.co.uk/news/Good-Care-Week-End-of-Life-with-Dignity-Christinas-Story/83.

It’s a touching tale of how a home care agency has helped a dementia sufferer stay at home.

Good Care Week: Examples of why carers are worth more

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It’s Good Care Week – I know I keep going on about it – but it’s lovely to get some feedback from members who want to share their caring highlights.

Tony Billingham, who runs Lapal House in Halesowen with wife Pam, has every right to fly the ‘good care’ flag after his staff saved the life of an elderly resident – thanks to some excellent first-aid training.

He takes up the story: “This is a current example of excellent care, which the public would never had heard of if it wasn’t for the Good Care Week initiative.

“One of our ladies was eating a salad when she began to choke on a piece of lettuce. Four of our carers – all first-aiders – were on the scene right away and an ambulance was called. But very quickly she stopped breathing and turned blue.

“You never want things like this to happen, but when they do, you certainly staff who are well trained and capable of dealing with the emergency.

“The girls persisted with artificial resuscitation for 15 to 20 minutes using all the techniques they had learned. They would not give up and remarkably our lady started breathing again and the food dislodged as the paramedics arrived.

“The paramedics were absolutely amazed and their commendation to the staff for saving her life just wonderful. Our best news is that by evening on the same day our resident was back with us, seemingly none the worse for her ordeal. The family has written to us expressing their gratitude and the paramedics have praised our carers to their seniors.

“This is the good face of care that is seldom seen by the public and underpins Lapal’s commitment to Good Care Week in a very practical way.”

Isn’t that great! These carers, along with this woman’s family, will never forget this experience. After so many negative headlines, this real-life story is worthy of some: Carers’ first-aid pulls woman back from the brink; Quick-thinking care staff save resident’s life . . .

This narrative is rich with the every quality it appears our ruling coalition does not want to pay for and will not offer credible investment.

Meanwhile, Poplars Nursing Home in Smethwick has reminded us that that the headline news they made with Eric Foster’s care continues to get better.

The 71-year-old steelworker has survived a three-year fight back to health, recovering from gangrene in both feet.

And in January the ‘living miracle’ returned to his Birmingham home after being nursed back to health.

He spent 11 months in City Hospital, Birmingham, followed by two years in the nursing home when a skin graft on an ulcerated leg broke down.

A cocktail or morphine and other powerful drugs were a daily regime for two years and he was not expected to pull through.

The Formula One racing fanatic, fulfilled his dream to rebuild his life by returning to his wife Linda

“He phones us now and then and we keep up with his progress, and offer encouragement,” said manager Gill Williams, adding, “Eric is a living miracle and his clinical success story is thanks to the home’s excellent multi-disciplinary approach and close-working relationship with doctors, physiotherapists and nutritionist.

“Eric is remarkable. He was very, very poorly when he first came to us but with care diligence, nursing skill and first-class support from the home’s doctor, he has achieved his goal and we have been able to salvage his legs and feet.

“We miss him asking for his ‘full monty’ English breakfasts and his cheeky smiles. In 20 years of care home management Eric’s is the only case where someone I’ve nursed, who was so poorly, has recovered enough to go home to loved-ones.

“It’s nothing short of joyous and testament to another example of good care in Good Care Week.”

Keep the stories coming to us please, it all helps raise the profile of the excellent work our industry does.

Good Care Week: Join us for free training . . . please

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Good Care week is with us. Its aim is simple, to raise awareness on a national scale of the excellent care that is regularly delivered into residential and nursing homes and domestic settings.

Some local authorities have managed to catch the spirit of this initiative – and one of them is Dudley.

To help celebrate the very ethos of good care, West Midlands Care Association is partnering the local authority to stage a free training session on What Makes Good Care?

In line with Dudley Council’s approach to transforming social care the session will focus on what is actually meant by “person centred care” and will also look at how to empathise with feelings of vulnerability and understanding the importance of positive social interaction.

People attending will also be given the opportunity to gain further understanding on what is meant by “mental capacity” and consider how to best support someone who may lack capacity.

The sessions promise to be informative and enlightening.

The event will be held on April 25 between 2 and 4pm at The Salvation Army Hall, Meredith Street, Cradley Heath. Places should be booked in advance by emailing enquiries@wmcha.co.uk

Working together this way is like a small jigsaw piece in a huge national picture. We have to start somewhere and it is hoped that a large-scale local involvement will birth a national movement that champions the many thousands of care heroes and heroines whose work is grossly undervalued.

It’s a groundbreaking initiative

Councillor Steve Waltho, cabinet member for Adult & Community Services said: “Good Care Week is an opportunity to celebrate and promote excellence in social care. Here in Dudley our Making It real Programme is transforming social care and striving for excellence and innovation across all aspects of social care.

“The event we are holding in partnership with West Midlands Care Association is a great opportunity for professional carers to network and engage with Good Care Week whilst engaging in a relevant learning opportunity and I would encourage as many carers as possible to attend the session.”

What more can I say: Come on, join us, embrace the Good Care Week and tell us how you are marking it. We’ll give your news an airing on our Facebook page and website. It’s an opportunity to get free expose. Please don’t pass it by.

Good Care Week: Pay and career structure key to changing image

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At the start of Good Care Week, I read in a national newspaper publication that the status of carers is “about where nursing was pre-Florence Nightingale: in a job that very few would choose above all other occupations.”

When Observer writer Katharine Whitehorn penned those words it was not meant as a derogatory comment, but an observation of the standard how many people view care work.

As we try to negotiate fees with local authorities there are two hurdles to overcome. One, central government sees fit not to decant funding to their local counterparts as it clearly is for them an investment not worth making; and two, carers’ jobs have no real status in their eyes. How wrong they are!

Carers come in all shapes and sizes, and as more and more of us fail to die to order. Some are not well educated, others do not have English as a first language and most would have never considered the work they do as a proper career.

Truth is, there’s so much of the care sector that does not even offer career structure and advancement for carers – yes, they might achieve senior status, but what after that?

But there’s another truth: The demand for them is going to increase.

Whitehorn writes: “Some carers are little short of saints, but because a lot of caring is inevitably done by family members, it’s assumed anyone can do it, and too many are simply doing it because it’s the only job going, with no sense of vocation, precious little pay, and too often expected to fit half an hour’s care into 20 minutes.”

I have a colleague with whom I work regularly and he has cared for his ailing wife for some 25 years. She has MS and he runs a media business – an amazing juggling act. He often confesses: “I’m monumentally useless at hands-on caring,” adding that “the care team do an invaluable job, we could not survive without them.”

He clearly comprehends their worth as “invaluable.”

Why is it that very few would choose care above all other occupations? Because it’s hard work and massively undervalued. And that value is driven down and down and down by the policy of successive governements not to recognise care worth.

I understand the Skills Academy for Social is recruiting graduates to be fast-tracked into management. It’s a good move which shows vision.

But but caring, like every part of the operating structure around it, needs a massive overhaul. Well-educated outsiders are not the complete ‘fix’. So what is? Primarily, as Whitehorn says: “. . . a real career structure and proper recognition in terms of pay.”

I know a whole raft of care industry operators who would dearly like to pay their staff more, but the margins are impossible.

The association is encouraging involvement in Good Care Week from residential and nursing homes, domiciliary operations and specialist care services.

Please join with us. Like our Facebook page and visit our new website. Post on our FB page just how good you are; tell the world you are worth more than money can buy, but you need it to support families and pay bills just like the rest of us; write to your local MP about Good Care Week to help them raise the status of social care in Parliament; and don’t be silenced.

Interestingly, care services minister Norman Lamb told a conference, organised by care sector analysts Laing & Buisson, that he wanted senior managers and directors of care providers to be held to account, particularly in the home care market where abuse of vulnerable people could be hidden.

Lamb disclosed that he had written to ministers in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, urging them to “name and shame” care providers paying workers less than the national minimum wage.

The Low Pay Commission has reported a sharp rise in the number of home care workers being paid below the minimum. It estimates that one in 40 workers is being paid below the legal threshold, rising to at least one in 10 if allowance is made for unpaid travelling time between jobs.

News like this destroys public confidence and undermines the priceless worth of the many unsung heroes and and heroines who care for society’s most vulnerable.