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By Debbie le Quesne

Archive for the ‘residential care’ Category

Robots with a human touch . . . will it ever catch on?

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You know the care sector’s in trouble when the media is awash with robot stories.

Apparently they are part of the answer to the care crisis. I’m not convinced, given the time frame in which we need a resolve.

But they are being developed “with cultural awareness” and a good bedside manner, academics say.

An international team is working on a £2m project to develop robots to help look after older people in care homes or sheltered accommodation.

They will offer support with everyday tasks, like taking tablets, as well as offering companionship. I get that.

Researchers from Middlesex University and the University of Bedfordshire will assist in building personal social robots, known as Pepper Robots, which can be pre-programmed to suit the person they are helping.

These “culturally sensitive” robots will be developed within three years, I read.

Prof Irena Papadopoulos, expert in trans-cultural nursing, was reported as saying: “As people live longer, health systems are put under increasing pressure.

“In the UK alone, 15,000 people are over 100 years of age and this figure will only increase.

“Assistive, intelligent robots for older people could relieve pressures in hospitals and care homes as well as improving care delivery at home and promoting independent living for the elderly.

“It is not a question of replacing human support but enhancing and complementing existing care.”

Here’s the rub . . . not designed to replace human support.

I don’t doubt they could be of use, but no matter how well they are programmed to be culturally aware, they will never replace the bond that can exist between carers and those for whom they care.

Pepper Robots are already used in thousands of homes in Japan.

So here’s the future: The robots will communicate through speech and with gestures, be able to move independently and pick up signs the elderly person is unwell or in pain.

Can’t really see my old Aunt Hilda asking her robot for a not-too-milky tea, with the tiniest amount of sugar, served in her favourite porcelain tea cup, can you?

 

 

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Higher local taxes not a proper answer

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While Surrey County Council leader David Hodge bleated an apology over his attempt at hiking up council tax bills by 15 per cent to cover spiralling social care costs, more than 90 per cent of councils in England told ITV News that being allowed to raise council tax has made little or no difference to their ability to provide social care.

In December the government announced it planned to increase the social care precept from two to three percent.

But with the crisis surrounding home care deepening, many councils told ITN its no more than a “sticking plaster”.

Interesting, isn’t it, that the Surrye ‘sticking plaster’ has just dropped off the ‘wound’ with the announcement earlier this month that the huge hike had been scrapped.

A survey by the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS), commissioned by ITV News, contacted all 152 councils in England.

They were asked whether permission to increase council tax would make a positive impact on social care in their area. Just 112 responded.

Thirty said it would make no difference and 79 agreed it would make very little difference. Just three councils agreed the rise would make a substantial difference to their ability to look after residents needing extra help to cope.

Not a single local authority believed the tax initiative at a local level offered a complete solution.

Last year the Local Government Association claimed Treasury funding cuts of 40 per cent over the last five years have left councils facing a £5 billion funding gap on social care.

Mrs May, will you please listen to what is going on in our sector and help us?

Interestingly, I was in Surrey at an association members’ meeting when the 15 per cent shocker was announced and the care providers with me were as puzzled as everyone else by the move, given that the majority of their clients are self-funders.

 

 

 

Snapshot on social care: Could it get any worse?

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Following the collapse of Southern Cross in 2011, we all though it couldn’t get much worse. The then UK’s biggest care home operator was in utter shambles and the lives of residents in turmoil.

No other big players have folded to date, but smaller firms aplenty are failing across the country. And there’s evidence too of major players in the region feeling economically uncomfortable . . . Four Season have closed in Birmingham and HC one have sold many of their Midland Homes.

The Guardian revealed last year a staggering 380 care homes have been declared insolvent since 2010 (Insolvency Service figures).

The number of failures each year has risen sharply since 2010, when 32 businesses failed. In 2015, 74 were declared insolvent, while another 34 failed in the first six months of 2016.

Large companies are also hurting. Four Seasons, the biggest care home operator in the country with more than 400 properties, is the most at risk, recording a pre-tax loss of £28m in the three months to the end of September 2016, the Guardian announced.

Robbie Barr, the chairman of Four Seasons, warns the industry is “struggling at tipping point” with the company juggling its own challenges.

On the issue of increased council taxes, he says it’s essential that councils use the powers they have been given to raise the social care precept and pass it on to frontline elderly social care services to help offset the additional costs of the national living wage increase and avoid further pressures on a sector.

The national living wage is scheduled to rise by 4.2% in April to £7.50, which is larger than the proposed 3% increase in council tax.

The Local Government Association estimates there will be a £2.6bn funding gap in adult social care by 2020.

A study by the Health Foundation, the King’s Fund and Nuffield Trust estimate the gap would be £1.9bn this year.

The LGA, reported: “The care provider market cannot carry on as it is and there is a real danger of more widespread market failure.”

And CQC . . . the industry regulator warned that adult social care is “approaching a tipping point”.

 

Time for a holiday, or more chocolate biscuits, please. . .

Crisis care letter follow-up swamped by Trump headlines

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I see the Select Committee chairs have sent a frank letter to Theresa May urging action to tackle the social care crisis. Their biggest fear, it appears, is that the Brexit circus will crowd out ‘domestic policy.’

Not a chance, I say.

There’s only one headline maker out there at the moment and that’s the Prime Minister’s new American ‘friend’, Donald Trump.

I can recall my seniors shouting at the television, offering running commentary on everything from the news and football referee decisions to the latest saga with long-departed Ena Sharples of Coronation Street.

This weekend I was almost doing the same as Trump seemed to fill every waking hour of newsfeed time. Of course, I’m not decrying that his game-changer on the world stage is not newsworthy, but . . . on home soil the critical nature of the social/NHS care latest seems to have fallen below the radar.

Mrs May must still be under a deal of pressure over the correspondence from three of the most influential Commons select committees urging her to seek a rapid cross-party consensus on the “immense challenge” of paying for health and social care in the future.

But the media frenzy has now a new focus and she must be secretly breathing a sigh of relief – albeit for a just a little while.

The letter – sent jointly by the Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston, of the health committee, Labour MP Meg Hillier, of the public accounts committee and Clive Betts, also a Labour MP, of the communities and local government committee, highlights fears that pressing issues at home are being put on the back burner.

“We are calling for a new political consensus to take this forward,” the letter reads (Guardian). “This needs to be done swiftly so that agreement can be reflected in the next spending round.”

The MPs maintain that any review should target both the health and social care systems, warning that separation of the two is “creating difficulties for individuals and avoidable barriers and inefficiencies”.

Not surprisingly, Mrs May was accused of failing to grasp the scale of the challenge, after the chancellor Philip Hammond ignored the care sector in his autumn statement last November.

And then of course, we had the announcement from Downing Street that local authorities would be able to increase taxers to sort out short-term needs. Bit of a knee-jerk response to associations like mine, I suspect.

The political consensus appears to put the blame for everything at the Brexit door. As the Guardian reported: “The intellectual energy will go into Brexit, the most ambitious civil servants will want to be in the Brexit departments; it will just be the focus of everything.”

The letter concludes: “In short, the problem is widely recognised – we now need political agreement so that a solution for the long term can be found. For our part we shall do what we can to contribute to a consensus. We look forward to hearing from you.”

Backing for the letter has come from The King’s Fund and the Local Government Association.

King’s Fund: Another year of challenges

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Looking to be inspired for 2017 and needing that shot in the arm to pep you up for the months ahead? Take heart (or a pill) – here’s the news from the much respected Kings Fund: “2017 promises to be another challenging year for the health and care system, with demand for care increasing faster than the supply of resources.”

The January bulletin adds: “A system already stretched to its limits will have to work even harder to maintain current standards of care and to balance budgets.

“This requires a continuing focus on operational performance and renewed efforts to transform the delivery of care at a time when frontline staff are working under intense pressure.”

I’m already wilting, even though I know it’s true.

The Fund points out that the NHS five year forward view (Forward View) will be “tested to its limits as leaders work to improve performance and transform care.” And it adds: “The NHS locally has to deliver £15 billion of the £22 billion efficiency improvements required under the Forward View, with the remaining £7 billion to be delivered nationally. It also has to provide evidence that new care models are delivering benefits. Failure to do so will raise serious questions about the assumptions on which the Forward View was based and on the ability of leaders to deliver their plans.”

The popular think tank highlights five main priorities for 2017.

Here we go and I’m summarising . . .

 

Supporting new care models centred on the needs of patients

 

  • People should be much more involved in their own health and care and be offered the information and support to manage their medical conditions
  • More care should be delivered in people’s homes or closer to home
  • Much greater priority should be given to public health and prevention through partnerships between local government, the NHS and other organisations
  • Action by government is also needed to reverse the rising tide of obesity and other major risk factors.
  • Building on the Forward View – programmes of integrated care that are sustainable.

 

Strengthening and implementing sustainability and transformation plans

 

  • Sustainability and transformation plans (STPs) are a practical expression of care that offer the best opportunity for the NHS and its partners to work together to transform the delivery of care, but there’s a need to strengthen leadership as they move from planning to implementation.

 

Improving productivity and delivering better value

 

  • As an organisation with an annual budget of more than £100 billion, the NHS has plenty of scope to be more productive. Increasing productivity has become more urgent as funding increases have fallen and deficits among NHS providers have risen. Key issues include better value, involving patients more in decision-making and reducing unwarranted variations in care and to improve care

 

Developing and strengthening leadership at all levels

 

  • Improving care depends in large part on the quality of leadership throughout the NHS and the ability of leaders to engage and support staff to improve care. There is a need for compassionate and inclusive styles of leadership
  • The success of STPs and the new care models hinges on experienced organisational leaders developing into system leaders, who are able to work across boundaries to negotiate and implement improvements in care. There is a need for leaders ‘comfortable with chaos’ to make things happen

 

 

Securing adequate funding for health and social care

 

  • In April the NHS will enter the eighth year of unprecedented constraints on funding while adult social care is rapidly becoming little more than a threadbare safety net for the poorest and most needy older and disabled people. The prospects for the remainder of this parliament remain bleak, with limited scope for raising more funds for social care and the NHS having to plan for infinitesimal growth in 2018/19 and 2019/20.
  • The government must choose between finding additional resources for health and care or being honest with the public about the consequences of continuing austerity for patients and users of publicly funded social care. Finding additional resources means being willing either to increase taxation or to reallocate funds from other areas of spending. Being honest about the consequences of continuing austerity requires acknowledgement that current performance standards and new commitments like seven-day working cannot be delivered within available funding.
  • The more important challenge is to initiate a debate about a new settlement for health and social care, building on the work of the Barker Commission.

 

I genuinely wanted some rays of sunshine in this bleak report, but the skies are still dark. Here’s hoping things will get better and we’ll see more integrated approaches between the NHS and social care. . . it surely must be the way forward.

 

 

‘Jet-in’ carers fly from Benidorm to UK amid care chaos

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I could hardly believe my eyes as I read the in the Telegraph that builders, barmaids and bankrupt businessmen are  flying into Britain from Spanish holiday spots to earn lucrative sums as care workers for the elderly.

What is going on?

A Telegraph investigation tells us that “thousands of expats are funding lifestyles in the sun by jetting in for fortnightly placements to take sole charge of the vulnerable, with, in many cases, “just a few days’ training.”

According to the story, British agencies are trawling popular resorts such as Benidorm and Malaga to lure new recruits with the promise of good earnings, free accommodation and subsidised travel.

And these travel carers are then supposed to give the most intimate of care to our elderly – virtual strangers doing shifts alongside residents with whom they have no real connection.

Figures being banded about, suggest earnings can be up to almost £1,700 a fortnight, with an alleged admission that many of those on their books “did not want to look after the vulnerable, but were driven by the cash.”

Our social care system is breaking down – a shortage of Government investment that’s matched by a growing shortage of workers.

Is this the latest symptom of chaos? Indeed, I believe it is, along with the widespread care home and dom-care service closures and record levels of bed-blocking in hospitals for want of social care packages being in place.

Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, is reported as saying the revelations were “yet another symptom of a crisis in social care” and I agree.

The Telegraph investigation reveals that “former builders, barmaids and taxi drivers are among thousands of expats flying back to Britain each month to be responsible for elderly people, those with dementia and learning difficulties.”

I am assaulted by a multitude of emotions at this news . . . I’m angry, frustrated, overwhelmed, but mostly sad.

Clearly driven by the downturn in the Spanish economy, we now have the added danger of casual carers – not to be confused by the many other foreign care workers who have chosen to make a career in caring in the UK.

It will be interesting to see what the CQC has to say about this latest trend, which according to the Telegraph is dodging regulation because some of the workers are self-employed.

Dr Sarah Wollaston, chairman of the Commons health select committee rightly says we need to “completely rethink the way we care for the vulnerable; we should be growing our own workforce, not relying on short-term stints from people flying in from overseas.”

I understand only too well the need to improve the supply of care workers, but this development worries me.

By 2020, a shortfall of more than 200,000 care workers is forecast in the UK.

For some, that’s a business opportunity, but if this is the emerging model we must stay vigilant.

Such a system raises obvious questions about consistency, accountability and care inquiry follow-ups – the regular dialogue between carers about patient needs and changes in condition.

I need chocolate, another coffee and the heater on my feet . . . all bad signs, I’m afraid, as a reach for crumbs of comfort.

  • Have you heard? This winter, the gaps in Britain’s stretched social care services have seen some of the most extreme measures on record.
  • Every NHS hospital has been ordered to cease most planned operations for a month until mid-January, in a desperate attempt to empty hospital beds, many of which are filled with pensioners for want of care packages at home.

 

Call to faith groups to take up dementia inclusion challenge

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It’s pretty clear to me that those endeavouring to meet the challenges of dementia care in the New Year will need all the help they can muster.

The statistics on predicted diagnosis are scary and so is the Government inertia to fund adequately this needy specialised sector.

Currently there are 800,000 people living with dementia in the UK and by 2025 there will be over one million.

For those living with dementia and their carers, this memory-loss condition can be extremely demanding, physically, emotionally and spiritually – a real test of love and faith.

I was heartened to read over the festive break of a new initiative by Livability and the Alzheimer’s Society aimed at establishing dementia-friendly churches.

Building Dementia-Friendly Church is a new guidelines for faith communities.

Developing a Dementia-Friendly Church is a practical and much-needed guide and is suitable for faith groups across any denomination. It represents an ongoing commitment by both organisations to make our communities more inclusive to those living with this problem, their carers and families.

With understanding and knowledge, properly equipped churches and other faith communities can offer a welcoming, inclusive and safe place.

And safe places are an essential cornerstone of dementia caring.

The guide describes what dementia is, its impact and explores the ways in which churches can offer support. It is suitable not only for faith communities which are considering becoming dementia friendly, but for those gatherings, where, by default, they have people with dementia attending.

For those about to embarked upon this route of faith-at-work expression, it makes essential reading.

Published to coincide with Dementia Awareness Week (May 15 – May 21), this comprehensive resource has drawn from consultations with focus groups, church leaders and congregations.

Following the guidance helps offer a lifeline to those living with dementia and enabling them to stay connected to their spiritual and community life.

Interesting, isn’t it, that dementia is not a disease; rather a term given to a group of symptoms from certain diseases which affect the brain. Alzheimer’s, however, is the most common cause of dementia.

My own life journey has seen the devastation dementia can bring, having nursed both parents.

A diagnosis of dementia is often devastating to the person concerned. Some other serious diseases offer hope of treatment success, however small, The symptoms of dementia are progressive and on an unknown time scale – it could be months or many years before the symptoms become advanced. The patient/carer journey needs to be a positive one and I strongly believe faith communities have a role to play.

Living in the present, doing the fun things now, which were planned for later in life, is a strategy which helps some cope with this condition. What a great idea for churches to recognise in a practical way that dementia patients are more than the ‘disease’. Heartening stuff for the New Year!

  • Livability is a major provider of disability services, partnering with churches and other local agencies in the delivery of care throughout the UK. It delivers training on shaping Dementia Friendly churches. More recently, they have raised understanding for mental health issues within the church through their partnerships with Mind and Soul and Greenbelt – the national arts and faith festival.
  • The Alzheimer’s Society is the UK’s leading dementia support and research charity for anyone affected by any form of dementia in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. They provide information and practical and emotional support to help people live well with dementia, and invest in world-class research with the ultimate goal of defeating it. Alzheimer’s Society also campaigns to improve public understanding of dementia and the devastating impact it can have, and make sure it’s taken seriously and acted on by our governments.