This week I was invited to talk to care home staff at Erskine. It was part of a series of talks to raise awareness about delirium, mobility issues in those with cognitive problems and dementia. In addition to these clinical talks were two from a relative and carer perspective. One was Tommy Whitelaw (@tommyNTour) talking about his mum Joan. The other was given by a family member of a current resident.
I must say when I saw that relatives were speaking I thought: ‘Wow! That’s quite a brave thing to do. I wonder how the staff will react?’
I’m all for putting my head above the parapet but not many others are. It can be incredibly difficult to hear feedback, no matter how constructive, without first putting it through a defensive filter.
That said I found what they had to say both incredibly moving and challenging. I don’t mean that critically either. When you work in your own tiny eco system of healthcare you can desensitise or even forgot how a simple turn of phrase can inadvertently upset a person. To hear that your mum is ‘too good’ for a care home after you’ve spent months anguishing over the decision can bring back feelings of guilt.
We were also reminded to take the time to remember that this person is a mum, a dad, a brother, or a sister. This person will never be a resident or a client to a family. They are people with stories and lives of their own.
It was these talks that had the greatest impact for me.
You see we talk a lot about being person centred but if feels like being in an echo chamber at times. What do I mean by that? Well, it tends to be people working in the health service talking about the need to be person centred. I rarely hear the patient or relative perspective in these meetings. It’s also started to feel a little competitive:
‘And the prize for person who talks the most about person centredness goes to…..’
I personally feel that it you were you wouldn’t feel the need to go on about it so much. You would just be.
So what makes the difference then? Tommy and I spoke about some of the people he’s met over the past few years. It’s quite a list although I got the impression that those who have affected him the most are those on the ground, so to speak. For all the pledges and promises of funding from on high it seems to get stuck on the way down to those who need it most.
As Tommy said caring is not seen as a career to aspire to. Even those working in the care home sector will struggle to get access to adequate training and education.
We have created this culture so we alone are responsible for changing it. I don’t want to hear people talking about what they should do. I want to see them actually doing something!
I’ve always been a believer in the concept of small steps of change. You are however investing time and effort in a very distant future so it does require patience.
Looking around the room after Tommy spoke and seeing many in tears, it was clear that a difference had been made. And that’s all that matters……