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Innovation and Relationships

‘A hotel environment is just window dressing if the care is not there’

Hello all! I’m the new Policy, Research and Projects officer at the National Care Forum, and, at the time of writing, this is day 13 on the job! The last two weeks have been a whirlwind as I’ve got to know the team, attend several events and meet some of our members. The highlight, however, has been attending the Managers Conference at the beginning of last week. For those of you who don’t know, this event saw over 250 delegates, speakers and exhibitors – so it was the perfect event to get immersed in the sector and meet members.

I don’t know about any of you, but my experiences of conferences in the past did lead to some trepidation that I might be dragged into some sort of inescapable networking bunker, condemned to hours of small talk and hard sells. Thankfully, this wasn’t the case. The levels of vulnerability, empathy and compassion from speakers, exhibitors and delegates alike was very encouraging to see and hear, and incredibly thought-provoking.

Besides the challenges to the adult social care sector as a whole, which were a recurring theme, two other themes stood out for me:

  1. The importance of not only being person-centred, but also relationship-focused when it comes to care.
  2. The need for innovation, not just in terms of technology (although important), but also in the way care is delivered more generally.

These themes flowed through most of the talks and workshops I attended, as well as the conversations I had with delegates at various points over the two days.

Take the quote I’ve used above for instance. This was said as part of Beth Britton’s very moving and powerful account of her own experience of the social care system as her family cared for her father who developed vascular dementia when she was 12. Her story changed the atmosphere of the room. She explored how family carers, families and care providers should be working together to ensure that care and support is person-centred and built on relationships. It is that, rather than a hotel environment that creates the best context for good care.

This theme of relationship came up again and again, whether it was Joanne Bosanquet speaking about the Teaching Care Homes programme’s aim to develop a geographically spread network of homes that demonstrate person-centred care and ways of working, or, Kirsty Woodard, highlighting the growing number of people requiring care who don’t have children or families to provide care, let alone that relational approach. And there were many other examples, both from speakers and delegates I spoke to. Everything I heard was a challenge to the way things have been done in the past, but there was a real sense in the room that the not-for-profit care sector is well placed to tackle these.

So, what is it about building good relationships that is so important? My take is that it is more than simple ‘co-production’ or ‘co-planning’, although that is one of the outcomes. It goes deeper. It means that providers, families and residents treat each other as humans rather than ‘clients’ or ‘problems to be managed’. It allows residents ‘to be known’ by care givers and vice versa; for their likes, dislikes, passions, characters, humour and all the myriad of things that make us human ‘to be known’ and cherished rather than simply managed. Maybe this is a little utopian, but it is certainly something I would like to see.

This is where innovation comes in. Martin McGuigan, in his session on changing perceptions of what people with learning disabilities can do, showed what innovation in care looks like when it is focused on getting to know a person. Community Integrated Care has created a Learning Disability Super League in conjunction with the Super League and the Rugby Football League, for adults with learning disabilities or autism. This is not typically thought of as care in the traditional sense, but it allows these adults to showcase their personality and skills, and what they can do for a change. It builds esteem and breaks down barriers for over 200 people with learning disabilities or autism. Rugby League might not be first choice of sport or activity for older people needing care, but imagine what could be done across the sector if a similar philosophy was adopted; of empowering people to do what they love and break through barriers.

Similar creativity and innovation came from Music for Dementia 2020 and Live Music Now, who showcased what music could do for people in care, particularly those with dementia, in building relationships by tapping into an individual’s identity and life experiences.

Finally, I also got the opportunity to see innovation in action! At the end of the conference I had the privilege of joining the NCF Rising Stars in visiting WCS Care’s Castle Brook care home in Kenilworth. This is an ‘innovation hub’, showcasing innovations, including technological ones, in a live care setting. I saw everything from circadian lighting systems, acoustic monitoring and an adapted bike track, to a resident’s cinema, shop and laundrette! The point of all this wasn’t innovation for innovation’s sake, but rather to create community, a level of independence and improve the quality of care.

So, it seems I have a lot to learn about the not-for-profit care sector! But what I’ve seen so far has been very encouraging. Despite the ongoing pressures of funding and recruitment and retention of staff, this is a sector full of innovation and optimism. I look forward to seeing more and meeting more of NCF’s members.

Follow Nathan on twitter @pixelatednathan


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