I have reached the age when many of my friends are coping with losing their parents. Sometimes things just end very unexpectedly. On Gogglebox the other night, Jo Woods described how her father suddenly died while howling at a joke cracked by her then husband Ronnie Woods and another rock star. I am sure it was a shock for everyone but what a lovely way to go! Sometimes parents have been diagnosed with a condition or disease which leads to a fairly rapid decline but usually there is compassionate and skilled support from healthcare staff.
All these situations are painful but the ones that are the most saddening are those where the care seems to be missing or is inadequate. A friend has recently struggled to support her very elderly parents at home. Her father was the carer for her mother who had dementia but when his health gave way, there was little support available. She ran herself ragged trying to co-ordinate the care for her parents, hold down her job and look after her family. Another friend of mine visited her dying mother on a ward to find her soiled (and it was clear that she had been that way for some time). Her mother died in her arms. I have two more friends whose mothers have dementia and have had to be sectioned. After a very difficult time, one is now receiving excellent care in an appropriate care home. The other is still in limbo waiting for a suitable place: this is placing an unbelievable level of stress on her daughter as the care in her current placement is simply not good enough. What is really worrying is that all these friends I am talking about are nurses who know how the system works but they are still struggling to find adequate care for their loved ones.
These days I work in a university and at our recent graduation ceremony we awarded an honorary doctorate to Andrea Sutcliffe who is the chief inspector of adult social care for the Care Quality Commission (CQC). In her acceptance address, Andrea talked movingly of her determination to make sure that the CQC regulatory approach is truly personalised. She said: “I want us to consider for every service we look at – is this good enough for my mum (or any other member of my family)?” (see Resources).
This seems an approach we should all get behind for all the services we deliver. But at the moment, looking at my friends’ experiences, too many places are failing the ‘mum test’. Losing my parents young was a very painful experience, but when I see what my friends are going through I recognise that at least I have escaped the misery of trying to make sure that my elderly frail parents get the care they need and deserve. I never thought I would be counting my blessings on that front.