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Perceptions about care homes need to change

George Coxon, author.

It has always been the case that most people have an opinion about care and nursing homes. I have found impressions of care homes, whether from within or outside the sector, are not often positive.

It has always been the case that most people have an opinion about care and nursing homes. I have found impressions of care homes, whether from within or outside the sector, are not often positive.

Over the years I have given many speeches where I have tried to change this. I have tried to reassure those needing 24/7 care now or in the future, or those who have a loved one already amongst the 430,000 or so people in residential care, that great times can be had living and working in a care home.

The headlines during the coronavirus crisis for care homes have been increasingly desperate and terrible.  At the moment care homes have moved from something of an afterthought at best early in the pandemic to headline news where we are now recognised as not just the second frontline but very much at the centre of the battle.  Offering reassurance and inspiration in the middle of a battle is never easy but for the future of care homes, it’s crucial.

So my job before you today is to say some things to change the narrative for care homes.

Having a long multi-role NHS history as a mental health nurse, service manager, policy lead then senior commissioner with a retained NHS role as well as a long history of care home ownership and activism I speak with some experience of both health and care.

There has been a lot of talk about integration of our NHS and the social care system. It has been argued this would promote joined-up thinking – a shared view of connection – dissolve inequities across health and care and ensure seamless treatment between the two sectors. I agree and am determined to promote, in the best way I can, the value and urgency of real change for health and care to be rightfully bonded together structurally, culturally and financially as soon as possible. We are ‘in it together’, as is so often said these days.

But what we also need is parity of esteem – equal recognition with our health partners. We need to speak loudly about our core values and principles, and ensure our existing expertise and strengths are recognised. In my area of social care, for example, it should be recognised the hard but sterling work our staff are doing caring for older people living with advancing frailty and dementia, particularly during this time.

I’ve spent many years now speaking in numerous places to like-minded fellow care home advocates, who recognise and reflect the great work residential care do.  Many highly respected figures like Dr David Oliver, lead geriatrician in Berkshire and regular commentator with the BMJ and the Kings Fund, often speaks up on our behalf.  The Covid-19 crisis is testing even the strongest of us – we know up to a third and more of care homes nationally have seen, or are dealing with, an outbreak.

In order to protect the option of at least good 24/7 care for those that need this in the future we need to support and nurture all those providers able to withstand the pressures mounting on us all – we are not over the crisis, I would argue, by any imagination.

I so often find myself talking with families right now who have found it hard to cope after an extended period of restricted access due to the virus. I have been reassuring them by way of technology and good old-fashioned emails and phone contact but know how difficult it is for them to not be able to spend time with a loved one at the moment.

We are doing a lot to take the worry away from relatives as restrictions are easing and there is the risk of a second wave of the virus.

We need to ensure people know we are being as cautious as possible and doing all we can to care for our residents. We need to counteract that negative opinion of care homes that exists so we get the support and help we need to tackle this virus – and that includes from the Government.