An interesting visit this week to Hollybank Trust (www.hollybanktrust.co.uk) an educational and residential facility in Yorkshire for children and adults with profound learning and physical disabilities. Fabulous facilities are matched by real passion and commitment from staff who are backed by active trustees and parents. The school is mainly residential and its graduates then move on to small residential facilities in the community.
All very impressive, and nothing more so than the Vision Project in which Hollybank service users engage in a range of activities including sailing, drama, interactive art and…photography. You would not readily expect people with profound learning and physical disabilities to be producing eye-catching images but a combination of specially adapted cameras for disabled people and dedicated staff the people in the Photography Group have really excelled.
All of this of course is a far cry from the infamous ‘day centre’ model where service users would spend day after day labouring over a wicker basket filled with goodies, the only benefit going to a local company who got a great deal on cheap labour. The Hollybank model – like all progressive and creative philosophies – strives to accentuate ability and not ‘contain’ disability.
And at Care Images, we are interested to make contact with photographers who have a disability and who are looking to showcase their work and talent. Please contact us through the website.
What price do we pay for enabling people with mental health problems to live in the community?
The case of the convicted killer and paranoid schizophrenic being allowed to study “the knowledge” to become a black cab driver was all over the media last week. But I ask the question from a selfish perspective as our small, quiet street with beautiful Victorian houses undergoes a demographic change. First, a housing association has placed a woman with a violent criminal record in a property it owns in the street. Over the weekend outside the property there was an ugly stabbing (not fatal) which left neighbours extremely worried. And earlier this year a private company that provides residential care for people with mental health problems got planning use for the terrace adjoining us as a residential facility for up to five people.
And before mental health providers and charities get precious about me not having the needs of their service users at heart, they need to understand that already in our area, three similar terraces have been bought for the same purpose with some worrying incidents of service users walking the streets having not taken their medicine and one instance where a woman was approached in an inappropriate fashion by a resident of one of the homes.
Care in the Community is the mantra of policymakers who would think twice if the same kind of service they espouse was the terrace next to them (how many architects of comprehensive schools sent their kids to the one they designed?)
I understand that people with mental health problems are as entitled to enjoy the benefits of living in the community as I do; but you know what, I am entitled to as much as they do and if it means my lifestyle is curtailed because of problems then what has been achieved? All I can say is that I hope myself and my family do not incur mental health problems as a result of the experience. What was the line from the song by Madness in the 80s? “Our house, in the middle of the street…”
This story caught my eye;
Daily Mail: Biggs wins freedom and a £30,000 care home place on us
I’m old enough to remember the Great Train Robbery and an unpleasant crime it most certainly was. I also remember when I was travelling in South America 30 years ago meeting a guy in a bar in Rio who said he could arrange for me to meet Ronnie Biggs (for a fee), an offer I declined. Of course, had Biggs not been sprung from jail, he would have served his time and gone into relative obscurity. That he became a darling of the gutter press says a lot about our country. And now that Biggs is nearing the end of his life, the same gutter press are desperate to squeeze every last drop of blood out of him to sell more newspapers.
Prison is clearly a totally inappropriate place to care for Biggs. He never murdered anyone (the train driver who was struck by the robbers did not die of that injury), he has served around eight years since his return to the UK and he has suffered strokes. It is irrelevant whether he is a prisoner; he requires nursing care. The crimes of the past have nothing to do with his current medical state so it is hard to see why there is any criticism of what surely is a medical decision. But no; the chairman of the Taxpayers’ Alliance, Matthew Elliott said this: ‘Why on earth should taxpayers have to fund this criminal’s five-star care when their own health and welfare needs are not adequately met?”
Matthew, I don’t know when you last visited a nursing home but there is little ‘five-star’ about any of the hundreds I have seen over the years as a social worker and then poacher turned gamekeeper in helping homes market themselves. There is nothing five-star about needing another person to aid with toileting and bathing; there is nothing five star about having to ask for help in turning over in bed. I could go on. The implication of Mr Elliott’s argument is that Mr Biggs might be deserving of nursing care as long as it is not ‘five star’!
The bottom line is this; Biggs has done his time (with sentencing these days he would probably have got a slap on the wrist by His Honour and sent to do community work in the nearest, er, nursing home), so leave the guy alone to live out the rest of his life.
The default style of brochures advertising care homes for the elderly usually involves a mission statement, philosophy of care, a commitment to giving people choice and dignity, three-star Michelin meals and an array of activities that would make a Chelsea socialite turn bright green.
The reality of course, can be very different even in the so-called better private facilities. I know quite a bit about care homes for the elderly; in my previous life as a social worker and commissioning manager I used to buy beds and conduct audits on out-of-borough placements. In the last few years in my work at a design company specialising in the care sector, Create Services, and more recently for Care Images I have been part of the other side of the service in trying to provide a positive image of care homes to potential purchasers.
Of course, all homes are equal under inspection law but some are more equal than others in what they provide. And it’s the little things that make the big difference; how much more is it on a home’s budget to add value to the product by serving wine at dinner or provide the football free through Sky Sports? One home we did a brochure for refurbished the basement into a specialist gymnasium for older people and an adjoining mini cinema with weekly screenings of golden oldies like Brief Encounter (one of my all time favourites).
Another home cut a deal with a local Blue Square Conference football team and took some of the residents to the home games; I saw a feature on TV news a few weeks ago with a drama group doing reminiscence therapy with residents. In short, there are plenty of creative ways to provide care without breaking too much into the profit margins.
Living in a care home may seem like the worst of all possible options but is living at home in the so-called ‘community’ that good if you are stuck in a high-rise flat unable to afford the heating while waiting for a less than appetising meals on wheels?
I have had the pleasure of working with some outstanding care homes both as purchaser and provider of marketing materials. As soon as you walk in you can feel that there is something special about the place; the staff are enjoying their work, residents are clearly content and maximising their abilities and purchasers, whether self or LA funded, are getting value for money. And you know what the interesting thing is; the homes I am talking about are not always the most plush, they just know how to care for people.
Watching Panorama’s expose of home care in the UK Britain’s Homecare Scandal I was not so much shocked as angry. It is hardly news that domicilliary home care providers are seemingly putting profits before people. Given that the raison d’etre of such companies is to make money (the city Hooray Henry with his red braces adhered to the bounties to be made in providing care) it is surely up to the local governments awarding these massive contracts to do something about the disgraceful standards to which some of these companies stoop. If I was paying around £2m for a service I would want to make sure I was getting bloody good value for money.
Of course, those on the shop floor earning the minimum wage plus a few pennies are not the cause of service users missing food, baths and medications; they are doing their best to manage in impossible situations. And it’s all well and good one director of social services telling the programme that they will not be renwing Care UK’s lucrative contract but the question was left hanging as to why she had not terminated the contract with the company immediately.
I think we should take a long hard look at whether private companies are actually able to meet the demands of caring for thousands of people following an on-line tendering process that resembled the Black Jack table at MGM Las Vegas. When I was a social worker these services were provided by LAs and yes, they were inefficiently run and staff were unionised and paid more but you know what, I never heard of vulnerable old people being left to rot in their own faeces.
Think about it; companies whose sole motivation is to make profits (and some of these companies also have a motivation to keep shareholders sweet) have little interest in providing the basic minimum to keep the inspectors happy. Are such companies really fit for such an important purpose of looking after our loved ones?