The focus for our annual
conference, Shaping the Future of Great Care, was determined many moons ago,
but the pertinence of it could not be more on trend. As we enter the last week
before the official leadership campaign begins for the next prime minister, we
seem to be facing the prospect of a long summer of hustings where once again
the Brexit will dominate the agenda, and the energy and need to address
domestic policy seems far from the candidate’s minds.
The urgent need for the
politicians to address social care has, however, been made spectacularly clear
in two recent Panorama programmes addressing the failings of the current
Two weeks ago Panorama
showed footage from an
undercover reporter at Whorlton Hall who exposed alleged abuse and systemic
humiliation and degradation of people intended to be cared for and supported by
the state. The untold damage to the individuals and their families is
devastating. Beyond the immediate impact on those individuals, the wider damage
to confidence in the care system and regulation will be long lived and for many
Then last week, we saw the
first of two Panorama
programmes. Entitled Care in
Crisis, it focused on Somerset County Council and how it has been operating
within an increasingly challenging financial environment.
Anyone watching this from the
perspective of being ‘in the system’ would recognise the Somerset situation is
playing out all across the country. However, whilst the programme showed the
need for fundamental reform could not have been more stark – it equally showed
the capacity for fundamental reform was never further away.
In order to change things, you
need to have a vision; and in order for the vision to manifest itself, you need
to have the right resources at the right time. I thought that one of the most
telling comments of the progamme was made by Stephen Chandler, the Somerset
Director of Adult Social Services, where he stated that people have become
complacent about local government.
I am not sure I agree with him
in relation to complacency. I suspect people outside of local government
probably find it as mysterious a beast as they do social care; unfortunately I
think the portrayal of Somerset will have done nothing to alleviate that. I know
that we have of course only seen the tip of the iceberg in relation to what was
filmed, and the film was most definitely telling a narrative.
However, the challenges of
local government were laid bare.
We saw local government senior staff stating
that they were simply not able to comply with their legal duty to carry out
assessments within 28 days, failing not just by a matter of days, but in fact
by months. We saw carers on the brink, as they struggled to accommodate service
closures, individuals perpetually in crisis, families frustrated and angry at
the unwillingness of the system to accommodate their loved ones’ needs and the sheer humanitarian crisis happening
on the doorstep.
These were of course the stories of the individuals who were
not having their needs met, but the messages they portrayed were not
Over the long weekend, I
caught up on a number of books on my long list. The first had been sent to me
by Elizabeth Orr. ‘Who can care
for me now?’. It is a very personal tale, shared from Elizabeth’s perspective of
having cared for her brother Norman.
Her frank and poignant tale of
determination to honour the dignity of her brother, bewilderment at the system
she encounters and frustration and anger make for a sobering read. Almost no
individuals or organisations appear to understand what Elizabeth is trying to
achieve, which to me appeared to be a desire to have her brother treated with
humanity, in a way that recognised the whole person – rather than what they
experienced which was fragmented, disjointed approaches which seemed to have
the system at the centre, rather than the person.
I also returned over the
weekend to Atul Gawande’s book – Being Mortal. Whilst read many years ago, I decided to listen to it
this time on audio book, and it still makes for powerful inspirational
listening. The central take away for me from this book, which was had strong
resonance with Elizabeth Orr’s personal tale, is how we have lost sight of what
life is all about, and as a result, lost sight of what care in all it’s
manifestations should be trying to achieve – and why.
Atul Gawande talks of how
advances in medical science have become the dominant currency, valued way above
a life where people still engage, still contribute, still maintain and build
relationships and where there is a constant need to innovate and redevelop to
meet changing needs.
It is galling to contrast this
vision of where health and care should be with where we appear to have got to
in the English care system, based on what we saw in fly on the wall discussions
in Somerset. These discussions held around the assessment team showed the huge
pressures on the social care system, resulting in less opportunity to
consider how to transform lives, or
encourage greater independence or fulfil personal goals; it seemed the focus moved
inevitably to the discussions about
survival, about harm minimisation and about duty.
It was uplifting, therefore,
to finish the week with a rousing Britain’s Got Talent Final.
Where Colin Thackery, former
Royal Artillery Soldier and resident at Royal Hospital Chelsea, was the outright winner. Here was a man, who has
shown the country that it is right to still have ambitions, to still want to
contribute, to still want to show their talent – and that this can all be
achieved whilst living in a care setting. In this time of extraordinary
difficulty, it is good to know as we head into our conference, that care has a new hero, and an old war hero to boot.
Please note there is a second
episode of the Panorama programme on Somerset showing this week on the 5th
June. It will feature NCF member Somerset Care.