Tracy Ryan, the country’s first dignity co-ordinator

The UK's first dignity in care co-ordinator tells Jeremy Dunning how her role has benefited service users and practitioners alike

The UK’s first dignity in care co-ordinator, Tracy Ryan (pictured) tells Jeremy Dunning how her role has benefited service users and practitioners alike

With a background in civil service project management rather than social work, Tracy Ryan may appear an odd choice to be Halton Council’s dignity in care co-ordinator – particularly as here_SSRqs was the first such role in the UK, though other authorities are now developing similar posts.

However, Ryan argues that her experience of partnership working as a project manager has allowed her to think beyond traditional silos to look across the whole care system to see how dignity can be improved.

“By working together you can make a big difference. It’s really helped improve the culture,” says Ryan, who also comes equipped with an Open University degree in health and social care.

The role, jointly funded by the council and the NHS, began life in 2009 as a response to the then government’s Dignity Challenge, which laid out national expectations of dignified care, including respecting privacy and giving people a right to complain without fear of retribution.

Now a culture of dignity is beginning to embed itself in Halton, Lancashire. There are now 35 members on the Halton Dignity Champions Network, which includes staff appointed to champion dignity in their organisations, compared with just 15 when Ryan first started her role.

They are charged with helping implement a Dignity Charter, which Ryan helped develop. This sets out certain outcomes, for example that people are treated with dignity and respect and their privacy is maintained. It also means assessing progress, including through service user surveys. Progress is backed up by an action plan.

“The role has benefited all services,” Ryan says, “and particularly those in receipt of services, by emphasising the importance of dignity in the context of people’s human rights.

“Locally, at a strategic level it has been recognised that, without the role to deliver a direct focus on dignity across all agencies, progress would not have been as effective, being left to individuals, which could be inconsistent and piecemeal.”

Typical issues addressed by Ryan have included poor communication from providers to the family or the user, particularly when people are transferred out of hospital to care homes, or poor staff attitudes.

One way of measuring progress has been through a dignity issues log to track and respond to issues. Another occurs at dignity awareness-raising sessions where complaints are raised directly to her, as if she were an independent advocate.

She also has her own website to promote dignity.

Training is being commissioned to support the local workforce in understanding the issues related to dignity and respect, and the council is starting to review the difference this training has made by examining service complaint numbers.

Ryan’s work helped ensure that Halton’s adult social care department was rated excellent by the Care Quality Commission in last year’s final annual performance assessment, which is a source of pride for her. In its report, the CQC said there was “evidence that the concept of dignity is becoming integral to service design and delivery”.

Talks are currently underway with emerging clinical commissioning groups and local acute hospitals to ensure NHS funding for the role continues when Halton and St Helens Primary Care Trust is axed in 2013.

Stressing the importance of the role for the NHS, Ryan says: “I’ve got this overarching role. Although hospitals do have dignity matrons I work across it all and see things from a wider angle.”

Dwayne Johnson, health and communities director at Halton, says this is a role other councils and NHS organisations should consider. “We decided that a dignity co-ordinator employed by the council would add more value,” he says, “by linking the wider cross-cutting agendas such as prevention, safeguarding and human rights.

“NHS partners in particular felt that a co-ordinator would be more likely to have a wider community lens and act as a bridge into the independent and voluntary sector providers.

“The post also raises this important agenda more strongly with elected members, providing greater profile and priority. This leadership therefore is seen as everyone’s responsibility and is a more seamless way of working together.”Ryan’s role

● Raising awareness and understanding about dignity in care among health and social care organisations.

● Supporting effective partnership working across the statutory, voluntary and independent sectors to ensure dignity and respect become an integral element of services for people of all ages.

● Developing monitoring, audit and research tools across partner organisations to assess progress on dignity.

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