What residential care needs is self-help, not self-deception

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]By guest blogger BOB FERGUSON

Why do care home leaders keep banging on about their sector being put on an equal footing with the NHS – parity of this, that, and the other? They know there’s not the slightest chance of that happening. Ever. As admirable as residential care is, it will never have the magnetic attraction – or as romantics put it, the special place in our hearts – enjoyed by the NHS. Pleading for equality with this iconic institution, ”the closest thing the English have to a religion,” according to Nigel Lawson, demonstrates a level of wishful thinking that would make Don Quixote look like a realist.

Regardless of class, political persuasion and, yes, position on Brexit, the presence of the life-long safety blanket of the NHS is a given in our lives. An ever-present source of healthcare and support since birth, it is as familiar to us as the clothes on our back. Residential care, on the other hand, is largely a void in the public consciousness; it is something that happens to other people, predominantly older people, for a period immediately before they shuffle off this mortal coil – which for most is not very long at all. Such is the perception.

Few relatives take an interest in the financial and operational vicissitudes of the sector, unless they impact their family members directly, and then only for as long as their kin are using the service. Thereafter, they park their concern and move on, apparently indifferent to the possibility that, in time, they too may need a similar resource.

The public profile of the sector is dominated by headlines about the volatility (and morality) of a clutch of private-equity care home companies operating with “high levels of borrowing, complicated corporate structures and cost-cutting measures such as tax avoidance and low staff pay.” For the anti-privatisation lobby, it is the gift that keeps on giving. For the public at large – to the extent they are aware, and care – it is more likely to trigger tears of frustration than devotion.

Although these headlines are not representative of the industry as a whole, the image they project has come to define it. Not only must it be refuted, instead of fantasising about the unobtainable, sector leaders should take their counterargument to the people. For which purpose, they’d do well to find an advocate with the status, commitment and integrity to embed residential care permanently in the national conversation (as distinct from the Westminster/Whitehall bubble), highlighting the challenges and preaching the lesson of its inherent social value. What would they give for another Greta Thunberg to emerge from nowhere, like a latter-day incarnation of Joan of Arc, to champion their cause?

  • The CT Blog is written in a personal capacity – comments and opinions expressed are not necessarily endorsed or supported by Caring Times.

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Date Published: October 7, 2019