by Tony Charlton
Dementia Awareness Week offers a reminder of tough decisions many of us may have to make about seeking appropriate care for family and friends – and, possibly, ourselves – if a dementia diagnosis is made.
But all too often, regrettably, newspapers and television are packed with revelations of care homes where residents’ dignity and well-being are disregarded.
We read, for instance, of ineffectual managers, and of vindictive, uncaring and inadequately trained staff. A recent BBC Panorama investigation highlighted yet another instance of neglect and abuse. Furthermore, we do not need long memories to recall worldwide reports of the abominations that were practiced in the Winterbourne View residential home near Bristol.
Despite efforts made by the Care Quality Commission and whistleblowers, these worrying reports persist. Quite understandably, they cause much public unease – and may be devastating for those seeking care homes for themselves or others. Clearly, great endeavour is still needed to rid care homes of inept and uncaring staff.
Yet there’s good news, too, which is far more seldom heard. Quality homes do exist, and some truly excel.
I was fortunate when I found a home in which I was confident my wife’s needs would be well provided for. Her years in Deerhurst Nursing Home, on the outskirts of Bristol, gave me ample time to view, first-hand, the dedication, skills and steadfastness of the staff there. The home is at the forefront of challenging disturbing preconceptions about residential care, such as:
Residents spend their days sedentary in chairs: This home has a packed diary of social events each week. These include minibus outings, art classes, karaoke-style singing for memory, visiting entertainers, craft, bingo, cooking, gardening, music for health, physio-fitness (e.g. using trampoline, exercise bike, stepping machine), keep-fit (exercises in chairs), dancing and film evenings. The sessions typically involve between eight and 40 people, supplementing staff and visiting experts (such as physiotherapists) are some of the home’s 24 volunteers – the eldest of whom is 97.
Staff are untrained, with high turnover: Deerhurst has 66 residents, nearly 100 staff, and an annual training spend of £55,000. This covers health and safety, safeguarding, first aid, human rights, food hygiene and nutrition, equality and diversity, team building, positive risk assessment, manual handling, fire training and person-centred care. Clinical staff receive advanced medical training. Moreover, staff seldom leave Deerhurst. Continuity of this kind implies satisfaction, and supports teamwork. Agency staff haven’t been used for five years, because regulars (who know the residents best) cover absences.
Homes are gloomy and depressing: Step into any care home and you will quickly sense its ethos – it’s not only visible, but felt. I found welcoming staff, who smile. Laughter among – and between – them and residents is commonplace. Corridors, lounges, bedrooms and quiet areas are bursting with memorabilia, and awash with colour, cosiness and warmth.
With hindsight, the above ‘myths’ might have suggested issues that helped me select the ‘right’ home for my wife. (Fortuitously, friends and colleagues steered me towards Deerhurst.) Today, my searches would have been aided by asking questions such as:
- What social activities are available each week to residents?
- How many agency staff are usually called upon each week?
- How much money is spent annually on staff training?
- How many volunteers help in the home?
- How many staff have left in the last year?
These questions are not intrusive. Successful care homes have nothing to hide. They will have this kind of information to hand, and should willingly share it.
Most of us would agree it is unjust and unfair – offensive, even – to managers whose vision and energy have shaped quality care homes, that all too often the media tars all homes with the same tainted brush.
Many good – indeed excellent – care homes exist. Let us celebrate their successes for a change.