Resilient care sector adapts for the future


The need for government to drive greater alignment between social care and healthcare is an age-old conversation, but one that has been illuminated during the coronavirus pandemic. Lack of a joined-up approach to the delivery of care in the UK has long prevailed, despite some efforts to bring it closer together.

The social care sector has played an incredibly important role during the pandemic, taking in huge numbers of residents to prevent the NHS from being overrun, and without all of the same testing and support. But the government has a way to go in uniting the sectors.

Social care workers are as skilled and sometimes more so than NHS staff, yet often feel they are viewed as an afterthought. This was perfectly encapsulated in the early stages of lockdown when it took weeks for the government to broaden the Thursday national doorstep applause from only NHS workers to everybody on the frontline of the virus.

“If the pandemic isn’t enough of a signal for decision-makers, legislators and leaders of this country to align the way healthcare and social care work together, then I don’t know what is.” says Lisa Soper, operations director at Avery Healthcare, which runs 56 residential, dementia and nursing care homes countrywide. “It should be a defining moment and a lesson to everyone that silo-thinking and funding doesn’t work.”

Avery is a leading player in the social care sector, demonstrating that a well-run care operation with the right level of robust and scalable procedures and well-trained staff can quickly adapt and withstand the impact of something as serious as COVID-19, with its many unknowns and lack of a user manual.

Crucially, Avery’s comprehensive training forms the foundation of its service; all employees, no matter what their role, are cross-trained. For example, housekeepers can support with personal care and the wellbeing team can support residents at meal times.

Its holistic, forward-thinking approach to the provision of care meant Avery was on a stronger footing than most when COVID-19 impacted, immediately establishing good access to personal protective equipment and adapting its protocols to protect staff and residents. Its regional managers didn’t visit unless essential, so a robust communications strategy, developed by an internal COVID strategy team, run via Microsoft Teams meetings, meant management could continue to review and maintain quality across the group.

With 70 per cent of all residents in care homes living with some form of dementia, it’s imperative that the sector at large understands the best way to care for those affected. In recent years, Avery Healthcare has transformed its dementia approach, with a contemporary strategy focused on enabling people to continue living a fulfilled life, rather than simply receiving care. Avery’s care homes utilise Skype and social media to enable contact between residents and loved ones, which became invaluable when families couldn’t visit.

“The idea of people coming to live in a care home and sitting quietly while care workers do everything for them is now very outdated.” says Jo Crossland, head of dementia care at Avery Healthcare.

“Quite rightly, people want to continue living their life. We have bespoke training for all of our staff, but particularly around dementia care, including linking with higher education institutions to deliver the best and most up-to-date evidence-based care possible. All our staff are skilled care workers and when COVID arrived it meant all of them could support our residents.

If the pandemic isn’t enough of a signal for decision-makers, legislators and leaders of this country to align the way healthcare and social care work together, then I don’t know what is

“The training we’ve established at Avery has also given our staff the confidence to question some of the local guidance during the pandemic. At the start of the crisis, several local community mental health teams, including psychiatrists, suggested that our care homes may have to consider restricting residents to their bedrooms, or increasing behaviour-modifying or mood-altering medication, to sedate residents sufficiently, so social distancing could be maintained.

“Responsibly, our staff had the confidence and knowledge from their training to know there were alternative and more person-centred ways of supporting our residents to remain safe while continuing to enjoy their lives.”

Avery’s efforts to ensure its residents can continue to enjoy life as normal to them as possible extend to activities, meals and faith. Avery has become expert not only in delivering vegetarian and vegan diets, but also diversifying for homes in ethnically diverse areas, with Halal or West Indian cuisine, for example. In addition, its care homes support a range of religious observations, with ministers from various faiths coming in.

To further increase its understanding of residents, particularly those living with dementia, Avery uses life-story work to truly understand the individual. Working with the resident and their family, staff develop an individual life-story board, which explores the resident’s life, including their family, career, holidays, interests and life experiences.

Life-story boards are kept in resident’s bedrooms, so staff are always reminded of the life they have lived so far, enabling them to communicate in meaningful and familiar ways that are beneficial to the resident. This is especially supportive for those with reducing cognitive abilities, who are struggling to make sense of the world around them; it helps Avery’s carers reunite them with those memories still preserved.

This proved particularly valuable when entertainers couldn’t enter the care homes, residents couldn’t go out on trips and other aspects of life were restricted. The information Avery gathered through such life-story work, as well as its more operational protocols, meant it could maintain a high quality of life with as little disruption as possible to its residents.

“How the pandemic has informed us about the future of care is that you have to deliver it really well, based on a thorough understanding of each individual,” says Avery’s Soper.

“Care is not just about medication and falls prevention. It’s the next phase of a person’s life. If you have a strong community within, you can do so much more to ensure residents have the best quality of lifestyle.

“People will often have a sense of reluctance about moving their loved one into a care home. With the media often distorting the reality, we can assure everyone that care homes are in fact some of the safest places to be at the moment. We’ve always been well prepared, resilient, united and passionate about providing excellent care to our residents, which has meant we have withstood the recent challenges and are well set for the way ahead.”

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