Category Archives: personalisation

It’s time to stop meeting needs and start focusing on developing a ‘good life’ for those who use health and social care services…..

The funding of the health and social care system is currently at the forefront of policy and is overshadowing any understanding of the values and ethics that should underpin care provision, to the extent a consumerist based system is viewed as superior simply because patients and service users become purchasers. However, evidence would seem to suggest this is not always the case. This raises the question for me is it possible to build a system of health and social care provision that is both affordable and based on values such as dignity and respect?

Developing a sustainable care system

Drawing on the ecology movement sustainable development is defined as “development that meets the needs of current generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs”. This captures two important elements, the need to support those currently requiring care without compromising the future of the care system which is able to accommodate a growing number of users within budget constraints.

Need, capabilities and the ‘good life’

A first step might be to reframe our understanding of ‘need’. The concept of human need is a relatively new one, and is used in different ways. Need in a health and social care context is often used to refer to a function to be fulfilled, i.e. nutrition, physical care. Such needs might be viewed as a necessary condition for survival. However, we can also view need in terms of security, respect, love and justice.

The failure to expand our understanding of need has arguably led to limiting our vision of human needs, and subsequently influenced how service provision has developed across a number of patient/service user groups i.e. older people, learning disability. A more useful way of thinking about need, from a values perspective, is provided by Amartya Sen with his concept of ‘capabilities’. Sen is concerned with identifying what individuals require to flourish and live a ‘good life’. For Sen whilst some capabilities depend on the fundamental provision of the basic elements of life i.e. nutrition, warmth and shelter, others require particular kinds of freedoms and social relationships. In this model it is recognised different people require different capabilities to flourish, depending on their personal circumstances and the community they live in, whether that community is within an in-patient/residential setting or lived in the wider community.

While the ‘good life’ is to some extent subjective it is also socially defined. In modern western societies it is largely defined in material terms as our ability to be consumers. A consumer culture within health and social care provision appears to be the route to a ‘good life’ as it enables individuals to increase choice and control by becoming consumers of care, rather than receivers of care. In this context care is viewed as a commodity, to be bought and sold. Thus enabling the individual to pursue their own version of the ‘good life’. Yet many people who use health and social care services are unable to flourish in a culture that defines the good life in terms of their ability to engage in a consumerist model of care.

A more useful way of thinking about this from an ethical perspective links Sen’s idea of capabilities back to Aristotle’s idea of the ‘good life’, where the good life was a life of happiness based on the exercise of rational capacity and moral virtue, but also requiring material means and relationships with family and friends. These were the essentials of a good life. Martha Nussbaum has expanded the specific capabilities drawing attention to the need for individuals to be free from state interference and free to form meaningful relationships with others to flourish. Nussbaum locates a capabilities approach around an individuals quality of life suggesting ‘it holds that the key question to ask is “what is each person able to do and to be?”. In other words it is not just about achieving an ‘average’ notion of well-being but about the opportunities available to the individual which will enable them develop their full potential, whatever that might mean for that individual.

This involves going beyond ensuring people have the ability to flourish to ensuring they are actually flourishing. This is pertinent to all service provision whether within the community or in-patient/residential setting.

Five areas important to flourishing and living a good life, regardless of the society/community you live in are: belonging to a family; belonging to a community; having access to material goods for sustenance, adornment and play; living in a healthy environment; and having a spiritual dimension to life. Arguably commissioning and delivery of service provision based on supporting the development of these five areas might enable individuals in receipt of health and social care services to flourish and have if not a good life, a better life.

A way forward

Conceptions of what constitutes a good life are varied, however, within health and social care provision it is prudent to assume a good life involves at a minimum care provision that is not abusive of those who are vulnerable. A first step might be to be more explicit in embedding the principles of capabilities and the good life to provide a solid foundation on which to build for the future.

‘Old age,more feared than death’: have we ever care about older people?

Has there ever  been a ‘golden age’ where older people were consistently valued, respected and protected by family and the institutions that make up wider society?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) suggests the abuse of older people occurs in many parts of the world with little recognition or response. This serious social problem is often downplayed or hidden from the public view,  and considered mostly a private matter. Even today, the abuse of older people continues to be a taboo, mostly underestimated and ignored by societies across the world. However, evidence is accumulating to indicate that the abuse  of older people is an important public health and societal problem.

As such, it demands an active response, one which focuses on protecting the rights of older persons, starting with  a change in our perspective on whom, and what, we value in society.

Although representations of old age and societal responses to older people have differed over time it could be argued old age is more often viewed as negative.

In ancient Greece old age was portrayed as sad, with the Greeks love of beauty marginalising the old. Although some commentators suggest the reality was more complex with the portrayal of older people in the classics as ‘both pejorative and complimentary’ (Thane). For Plato reverence toward old people was a guarantee of social and political stability, whereas Aristotle disagreed with such positive images. Cicero’s work De Senectute, written in 44 BC, points to the variety in individual experiences of ageing, acknowledging that for those who are poor and without mental capacity ageing is miserable, however, suggesting older people need to strive throughout their life to remain intellectually and physically able.

Arguably this belief still underpins social care legislation and policy today in respect of older people.

It has been suggested older people’s status in society is linked to their ability to participate in society from an economic perspective, especially in terms of activity in paid employment. Historically where older people have been unable to participate in paid employment, help and support has been provided through a mixture of family and state support, with an emphasis by government on the former rather than the latter. However, commentators suggest post industrial revolution another victim of change were the elderly. The old did not merely lose power, they also lost respect. The rise of the alms-houses, and institutionalised poor-relief, suggests that their children were increasingly shedding responsibility for their support and transferring it to the community..

Although Thane  argues, this may have been due to families own depths of poverty, rather than lack of care or a shedding of responsibility. The abuse of older people was not something government identified as a problem throughout this period, although, self-neglect was identified as an issue which government sought to address in the 1948 National Assistance Act.

This is not to say it did not occur, for example, the 1942 Exceptional Needs Enquiry found most older people living with families were there under sufferance. They were often less well off than those who lived with strangers, and lacked essential items of clothing, bedding or household equipment as families used any provision, such as clothing coupons, for personal use. Whether this constituted abuse is not clear as many families who cared for older relatives were often living in poverty themselves and older people often willingly gave their families any support they could, even if this meant going without themselves. Of course, records do not exist to either confirm or deny whether such relationships were abusive or mutually supportive, however, it might suggest in terms of individual worth and personal identity, a cultural norm existed where the welfare of the younger generation was prioritised over that of the old by both young and old.

However, Peter Townsend’s landmark study of long-stay institutional care for older people in 1950’s Britain, provides a little more insight into the experiences of older people receiving care. One of the interviews he recorded was with a matron of a small private residential home in Greater London, which Townsend suggested was by far the worst home he had visited, whilst his commentary did not discuss the issues raised in terms of ‘abuse’, if, as a researcher today, I were to hear such an account I would make a referral to the local authority and the regulatory body for residential care, the Care Quality Commission, as the interview is clearly describing ‘abuse’ as defined in policy today.

This suggests the abuse of older people has been going on for a long time, but has been hidden from public view, but we do know now don’t we.

How Feminine cultural values can develop compassion that endures in health & social care

Whilst change is required in the organisation and delivery of health and social care to prevent another ‘Francis Report’ Government must not see developing compassion in care as seperate from developing a culture of compassion across society

Whilst Ed Miliband eyes the delights of Swedens standard of living and David Cameron suggests Women have an important role in society and politics as leaders, evidence from Nordic countries suggests their model is worth giving serious consideration to the positive difference a more feminine culture might make in society. Could such an approach help develop a culture characterised by compassion for those most vulnerable in society, especially the elderly.  A form of compassion not learned from a manual, but enduring because it is ‘a way of being’.

There is clear evidence in the UK that poor levels of care, in both the private and public sector, is endemic in our care system.  Whilst the focus currently is on the leaders and professionals charged with developing and delivering care, wider society too has a role in ensuring compassion in care is the ‘norm’ and not the exception, as The Independent suggests

‘For a while we may pause to express outrage.  But we then move on to the urgent business of our daily lives. Spot checks and hit squads may arrest the worst practice…but they will not do much about a society that has hardened its heart against the elderly’

So how could we soften those hardened hearts?  Feminine values  in society play an important role in Nordic countries in shaping the culture of those countries.

Geert Hofstede cultural dimensions theory explores the impact a society’s culture has on the values of its members, and more importantly, how these values relate to individual behaviour, which in light of recent reports may offer lessons to us all on how we develop a culture of compassion that extends from society into hospitals and care homes.  One of the dimensions identified as important by Hofstede is the notion of masculinity vs. femininity, although the concept is not reduced to a male vs female dichotomy rather, this relates to communication and leadership styles underpinned by a particular culture.  Hofstede suggests masculine cultures place more emphasis on competitiveness, assertiveness, materialism, ambition and power, with success measured in terms of ‘winning’, i.e. meeting targets.  Whilst feminine cultures place more value on cooperation, consensus and caring relationships, where quality of life is the measure of success.  Sweden and Norway score highly as feminine societies.  This means valuing the ‘softer’ aspects of culture i.e. consensus and cooperation.

A culture of ‘masculinity’ arguably dominates government, and society in the UK, where ‘value’ is predominantly linked to ‘value for money’, unlike Nordic countries where values such as ‘equity’ and ‘cooperation’ are viewed as equally important.  This has been acheived by taking a whole systems approach to developing a balanced value base across society. This culture has been created by ensuring policy and legislation supports a broader understanding of ‘value’.

Arguably, the new Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012 is trying to ‘nudge’ public sector commissioners of care toward their ‘feminine’ side as  Patrick Butler of the Guardian suggests ‘the act requires public authorities to take into account social and environmental value when they choose between suppliers, rather than focusing solely on cost’.  The message appears to be: money is not everything!

For those not convinced, and who would argue money is everything, it’s worth considering the effect of Nordic policies on the competitiveness of their economy.  The Economist reports the World Economic Forum rate Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Norway as ‘top of the class’ as  well as being probably the best governed countries in the world.  How have they achieved this?  Well it is beyond the scope of this blog to explore this in detail, but it would appear they have somehow managed to successfully blend ‘big government’ with ‘big society’ without compromising either, and I wonder how much of this is to do with the active development of  ‘feminine’ cultural values where equity and egalitarianism over ride competition and choice.

A  previous blog looked at the potential lessons we could learn from Finland,  suggesting public sector provision may be improved if we change our focus from a  market/target driven culture in health and social care to one characterised by equity and responsibility.

The Nordic countries may not have all the answers, but they do provide an interesting alternative.  So interesting that Labour leader Ed Miliband has  visited Sweden to see for himself the Nordic model.  However, to learn from these would involve politicians moving away from addressing the problems identified in the care system in individual silos to taking an approach that focuses on a wider value base to develop a  compassionate society.

In Finland no targets = higher quality provision and attainment

Finlands education system is one of the best in the world, and it does not rely on tests, targets and league tables.  Could this show us a way forward across the public sector?

An interesting article  caught my eye a while ago and got me thinking about the’target’ culture that dominates the public sector.  Apparently Finland’s education system rejects targets and is the best in the world, although this has not always been the case.  Following failure in the 1970’s the whole system was reformed, and the reforms seemed to have worked, and even cost less than when the education system was failing.

Could we learn from this? So what did they do? Introduce additional tests, targets, performance indicators, outcomes, privatise the system to increase competition and consumer choice to drive up educational standards? Well, no, just the opposite really.

Firstly, there are no league tables in Finland, the main driver of education policy is a vision focused on ensuring all children have access to the same opportunities to learn in a good school, wherever the child lives and regardless of the childs economic background.  Cooperation between schools rather than competition underpins this ethos, as does a belief in the ability of individual schools to achieve this without centralised targets from government or regulation.

Teachers/academics are valued as professionals and as such are trusted to assess children in their classroom using independent tests they create themselves.  If they do not feel it is beneficial to the childs well-being they do not test the child. Inclusion in tests are determined by whether it positively affects the students learning, not whether it increases students scores or meets a performance indicator.

The bit that really caught my imaginaton when reading was when the interviewer asked about the accountability of the teachers and those who run the school. ‘Salberg shrugs. “There’s no word for accountability in Finnish” later on suggesting “Accountability is something that is left when responsibility has been subtracted” Whether this is true or not I do not know as I do not speak Finnish, however, it is an interesting notion that by acting responsibly accountability is not an issue.  In Finland teaching professionals are afforded prestige, decent pay, and a lot of responsibility, which they evidently fulfil with gusto.  So the question of ‘accountability’ seldom arises. If it does it is dealt with by the head locally. And believe it or not but all of this has been achieved by not privatising education, that’s right not privatising education.

There are no private schools in Finland, only a small number of independent schools exist in Finland but even these are publicly funded. None are allowed to charge fees, and there are no private universities either.  The focus in public sector provision of education is on equity and shared responsibility, not choice and competition.

Hmm can we learn anything from this? At present public trust and confidence in the public sector must be at an all time low, however, to regain trust we need to see real change, a change in direction that is new and imaginative.  One of Finlands key success factors has been a recognition that learning from past experiences can build a better future.  Can we do the same?

The ‘Big Society’ will not necessarily lead to better elderly care treatment by @dianegalpin

A fantastic blog by our senior Lecturer Di Galpin for LSE Policy and Politics Blog a recommended read!!!

The ‘Big Society’ will not necessarily lead to better elderly care treatment.

Di Galpin looks at the Big Society from a philosophical standpoint and questions whether it can be achieved without encouragement from an active state.

‘Big Society’ and the future of health and social care

David Cameron suggests the Jubilee party was a ‘perfect example of ‘Big Society’.  Whilst it’s okay for a knees up, is it a suitable foundation for improving the quality of care  older people receive in Britain?

Unfortunately, David Cameron’s comments on Big Society do little to help us understand what “it” actually is, and to be honest, I am not even sure he  knows what it is beyond the usual sound bytes of ‘kitchen sink economic theory’*.  However, could the concept of Big Society actually have something to contribute to the debate on the future care of older people?

What is ‘Big Society’?

Big Society has been vilified as a return to the politics of the New Right,  a Trojan horse for smaller government,  and feted as the anatomy of the new politics  on which to establish the legitimate nature, and limits, of the relationship  between the  state and individual in a 21st century system of health and social care.  Phillip Blond is a central figure in the development of the concept of Big Society.  Blond  argues both the political Left and political Right have presided over a collapse of coherent cultural values and a shared commitment to a ‘common good’,  suggesting a redistribution of power from the ‘top’ (state) to the bottom (individual) is required, aligned with a more compassionate form of capitalism, to re-establish the common good.  For the current government this rests on the empowerment of local communities founded on voluntary networks of trust and mutuality.  From this perspective the purpose of Big Society appears to be to extend responsibility for the care of older people to local communities, rather than extending the responsibility of the state.

Policy programmes already implemented by the current government to develop Big Society include the National Citizen Service, which organise voluntary opportunities for young people, and the creation of the Big Society Bank, which will act as a central source of investment income for third sector organisations.  The Localism Bills’ accompanying guidance states ‘Big Society is what happens whenever people work together for the common good.  It is about achieving our collective goals in ways that are more diverse, more local and more personal (HM Government, 2010: p.2).

However, whilst at one level Big Society can be viewed as a mechanism of transferring more responsibility onto individuals, allowing the state to reduce public sector spending (Alcock, 2012) Big Society is also about believing in, and building on, the inherent ‘good’ within humankind.

Jesse Norman suggests Big Society involves moving beyond the ‘two way opposition of state vs. individual’ in the provision of care to ‘the three way relationship of enabling state, active individual and linking institution’ (2010,p.7).  For Norman the former is flawed because it ignores the diversity of human beings and their ability to act morally without interference from the state.  By justifying the legitimacy of the state, it polarises the individual and ignores the positive power and potential of individuals to create and maintain a ‘good society’, which cares for one another for altruistic reasons, rather than because the state legislate that society provide care and support.  Norman suggests state interference is a negative response to care provision, quoting Alex de Tocqueville (1805-1859)

“The more [the state] stands in the place of associations, the more will individuals, losing the notion of combining together, require its assistance.  These are cause and effect that unceasingly create each other.”

The ‘associations’ that mediate between individuals and the state can be conceptualised as operating within civil society.  Civil society is the space of un-coerced human action, the place where people take action as moral beings,  via all organisations and associations above the level of the family and below the level of the state.  The place where your jubilee street party was planned presumably.

Importantly for advocates of Big Society the role of government in this ‘space’ and ‘place’ is minimal.

How does this support the current approach to caring for older people?

From this perspective caring for older people, and ensuring care is dignified, is viewed as something we all agree is a ‘good thing’ and freely engage in, rather than something government should regulate or legislate for.  In this context government relies on ‘phillic’ associations, taken from the Greek ‘philia’, meaning friendship ties, affection or regard that are the essence of the space between individual and state.  Government would rather rely on these to guide human behaviour in the care sector than introducing legislation or regulation.

Hence, the governments  support for the introduction of a voluntary dignity code  (The Telegraph., 2012).

Big Society, freedom and money

However, whilst government may think treating older people with dignity and respect is viewed as a ‘given’, assuming we are all willing to  care for, and protect,  older people,  this is not necessarily true, as evidenced by a number of reports on the poor levels of care provision  older people experience across the care sector.

At the heart of the current debate are two related themes.  Firstly, an attempt to understand how the relationship between the state, private sector and individual should be formulated to fulfil a mutual responsibility in supporting dignified care for older people, and secondly  the affordability of care provision.   Successive governments since Margaret Thatcher have relied on a consumerist approach to improving the quality of health and social care provision. The question is has turning vulnerable older people into consumers improved their care?  For some yes, but for many of the most vulnerable older people in society, those older old people with dementia and who are frail, I’m not so sure.  However, what it has done is hide the abuse and mistreatment of older people from collective view for the last 30 years, and led society to engage in debate that does not move beyond the financial.  Research suggests this has had a detrimental effect on the moral health of society and academics are now suggesting the use of market mechanisms can change people’s attitudes and values, having a  ‘corrosive effect’.    Michael Sandel makes a pertinent point suggesting

It calls into question the use of market mechanisms and market reasoning in many aspects of social life, ……to motivate performance in education, health care, the work place, voluntary associations, civic life and other settings in which intrinsic motivations or moral commitments matter‘ (What money can’t buy, 2012, p122).

It is impossible to ignore the effects of systematic inequalities in liberal societies that effectively exclude, or compromise the rights of a variety of social groups.  Nor can we ignore the corrosive effect successive governments use of a consumerist approach to health and social care might have had on those ‘phillic‘ associations so vital to a ‘Big Society’.   The ‘Osborne Supremacy’  assumes the existence of a single unified ‘big society’ when it actually consists of many ‘societies’ with competing interests where the interests of powerful elites are advanced in the name of defending common interests, whilst the interests of marginalised groups, such as older people,  leave them without support.

Big Society or Big Con?

The answer will depend on your political and ideological viewpoint on the legitimate role, and limits, of the state in the provision of health and social care.  Whilst it is true Big Society clearly already exists, evidenced by the number of people already providing care freely in society, what is in doubt is whether it can be extended any further without an active state (Sullivan, 2012).

* Kitchen sink economic theory -this is a term used in my household to describe David Cameron and George Osbornes approach to the financial crisis.  It refers to a vision I have of a post war couple discussing there finances whilst stood washing up at the kitchen sink.  Gladys turns to husband Frank and says “money is tight Frank, what will we do?”  Frank turns to Gladys and answers “never fear mother, we’ll just have to tighten our belts, don’t worry we’re in this together”.  Of course Frank and Gladys are very naive and do not realise their actions will make no difference because the problem is a global financial crisis and not related to Gladys splashing out on a new apron!

There is a million reasons why ‘big society’ and ‘choice’ are not enough when providing care to older people

Research suggests as many as 500,000 older people are abused each year (Action on Elder Abuse), in the main by those supposed to be providing their care.  Therefore, since the election in May 2010 up to one million older people may have been abused.  

This information is not new, successive governments have been aware of this issue for many years but all have stopped short of introducing a coherent legislative framework to protect those most vulnerable in the care system.  The coalition appear to believe in the power of ‘big society’ and service user and patient ‘choice’ in a market led health and social care system.  My difficulty with this approach is it offers nothing new,  it looks no further than the rhetoric of the ‘free markets’  beloved of every government since Thatcher.  Nobody appears interested in thinking deeper and developing care from a philosophical perspective.  Surely we need to understand what motivates us to care before we can reform the system ?

Historically societal attitudes toward older people have always been poor.  In ancient Greece old age was portrayed as sad with historians arguing the Greeks love of beauty marginalised the old, especially women, sounds familiar!  Cicero’s work De Senecute, written in 44BC, pointed to a variety of individual experiences of ageing, however acknowledging that for those who were poor and without mental capacity ageing is miserable.  Sadly, all of this is still true today with research suggesting those at greatest risk of abuse and mistreatment are elderly women suffering from some level of dementia.  This,  along with the fact that the abuse and mistreatment of older people is a global issue identified by the World Health Organisation over a decade ago, suggests the issue  extends well beyond political systems and party politics in the UK.

I’m with social contract thinkers Hobbes (1588-1679) and Locke (1632-1704) when they suggest as human beings we are inherently selfish and our individual pursuit of pleasure is destructive to society, suggesting the law can be used as an apparatus to modify such human desires.  In my view the  continued economic approach to health and social care has fed such selfishness, to the detriment of certain groups in society, i.e. older people,  and we now require a strong lead from government.

Successive governments since Margaret Thatcher have relied on a consumerist approach to improving the quality of health and social care provision. The question is has turning vulnerable older people into consumers improved their care?  For some yes, but for many of the most vulnerable older people in society, those older old people with dementia and who are frail, I’m not so sure.  However, what it has done is hide the abuse and mistreatment of older people from collective view for the last 30 years, and led society to engage in debate that does not move beyond the financial.  Research suggests this has had a detrimental effect on the moral health of society and academics are now suggesting the use of market mechanisms can change people’s attitudes and values, having a  ‘corrosive effect’.    Michael Sandel makes a pertinent point suggesting

It calls into question the use of market mechanisms and market reasoning in many aspects of social life, ……to motivate performance in education, health care, the work place, voluntary associations, civic life and other settings in which intrinsic motivations or moral commitments matter‘ (What money can’t buy, 2012, p122).

So what can we do? Helen Sullivan suggests ‘a big society needs an active state’.   A useful first step would be for government to accept the Law Commissions recommendations on reforming the law in respect of Safeguarding Adults without delay.  Secondly, abandon the rhetoric of ‘choice’ and ‘free markets’  and develop a meaningful dialogue based on concepts such a honesty, morality and dignity from a philosophical  rather than financial perspective. A new approach might be to have a dialogue that goes beyond party politics (and winning the next election) and begins by asking big society what it wants to afford, rather than politician telling us what we cannot afford.

I am sure many will say we cannot afford to reform the system on philosophical grounds, I would ask those individuals “can we morally afford not too?”

Have we reached the point of ‘compassion fatigue’ when it comes to the abuse of older people?

The BBC will broadcast shocking images of abuse on Panorama whilst the Telegraph suggested last year the treatment of older people in care is now so bad that it meets the legal definition of torture according to the Governments own human rights watchdog (John Bingham, 5th March 2012). How many more news reports do we have to watch and read before society and government decide to react with more than short lived outrage or have we reached the point of ‘compassion fatigue’ when it comes to the abuse of older people?

The BBC’s Panorama (17th June 2013) will make for shocking, and saddening,  viewing on the care of older people in Britain today. Sadly this is not new to many of us who have worked in the care sector. Yet our voices have gone unheard, leading to many, such as myself, leaving the profession.

Unfortunately the abuse of older people is not confined to hospital and residential settings, it is estimated up to 340,000 older people in the UK are abused each year in their own homes. The abuse of older people now parallels that of children with many experiencing emotional, psychological, physical, sexual and financial abuse perpetrated against them by those charged with providing care and support, for example, partners, wider family and professional carers.

This most recent report of abuse appears after many others, highlighting the disgraceful treatment older people experience from those supposed to be proving their care, whether at home, in hospital or residential care. A report by the Health Service Ombudsman on the abuse of older people in hospital settings suggests there is a culture of indifference from both government and staff to the abuse of older people.

The Independent commented:

“For a while we may pause to express outrage. But we then move on to the urgent business of our daily lives. Spot checks and hit squads may arrest the worst practice…..But they will not do much about a society that has hardened its heart against the elderly.”

Doing nothing is not an option. The review of adult social care law undertaken by the Law Commission in 2011 made clear to government the law pertaining to the protection of vulnerable older people requires strengthening as the current framework is clearly not working. However, this alone will not address the issue. The current discourse on the care of older people also needs to change, we have reached the point where ‘cost’ is king, every aspect of care for the elderly is framed in the language of economics. Government and society are so focused on the cost of care they have lost sight of the value of caring to society, from a moral and ethical perspective. Replacing values such as dignity and respect in care with ‘value for money’ has reduced older people to a percentile of spending of tax payers money, rather than being viewed as actual people, people who at some point may require additional help and support, through no fault of their own but as a natural process of ageing. Indeed the focus on cost diverts our attention from the real issue, we as a society are, at best, indifferent to the plight of older people.

Our ability to watch abuse captured on film in care settings and read report after report yet do nothing to change our attitude is disturbing, maybe society is experiencing ‘compassion fatigue’? If this is the case old age is to be more feared than death!

Real change can only occur if built on a foundation of respect for older people. Developing a culture of dignity and respect for older people requires more than codes of practice to guide the carers who look after our older people. We all have to develop a much deeper understanding of what ‘dignity’ and ‘respect’ actually mean and how we demonstrate dignity and respect to one another, starting firstly with ourselves. Arguably if individuals respected themselves they would not allow themselves to act in such a way that is abusive to those they care for. It would also help if we respected carers by paying them a wage that genuinely reflects the complex nature of the work they do.

It is with shame that we should read the treatment of older people in care is now so bad that it meets the legal definition of torture according to the Governments own human rights watchdog. How many more programmes showing carers abusing those most vulnerable must we watch, how many more people have to suffer before society and government decide to react with more than short lived outrage?

The trouble with personalisation is, it’s not personalisation…….

Personalisation occupies a central position in social work with adults today and was at first welcomed by social workers as a positive step forward,   however, our understanding of ‘personalisation’ is somewhat different than governments.  This is not a surprise when we look at the driving force behind its development.  Personalisation was driven not by social work, but by the think tank DEMOS (favoured first by Tony Blair and more recentlyDavidCameron) and in particular Charles Leadbeater, a journalist and writer who spent ten years working for the Financial Times and who was an adviser to a number of major private companies, including Chanel Four Television and British Telecom.  A key document from DEMOS should have set the alarm bells of social work ringing in 2004.  The ‘Pro-am Revolution’  provided the rationale for delivering personalisation.  The pre title blurb sets the direction of travel

The 20th century was shaped by the rise of professionals. But a new breed of amateurs has emerged….’

The central tenet of the Pro-Am Revolution is that with the advent of new technologies and educational systems we no longer need to rely on professionals to undertake particular tasks because amateurs are now able to operate at the same level as professionals, but without requiring large organisational structures.  DEMOS looked specifically at areas such as web design and astronomy, suggesting the same premise could be applied to education and social care, going onto say ‘Pro Ams are creating new, distributed organisational models that will be innovative, adaptive and low-cost’ which will also be ‘light on structure and largely self regulating’.  Hmm sounds familiar.

For DEMOS, a service user was a service user, no distinction was made between the needs of those with disabilities or mental health difficulties or older people (nor for that matter the difference between a web designer and older person with dementia!).  This resulted in a flawed conception of the people who use services and their ability/willingness/desire to manage their care and the markets that would provide care.

The conception of personalisation in a think tank has never boded well for its implementation.  However, it has been useful at a political level as it has acted as a mirage to conceal a very different agenda linked to the equally nebulous concept of ‘choice’.

Clarke (2005) suggests choice is the engine of public sector reform, with choice seen as desirable in empowering individuals to move from passive consumers to activated and responsibilised citizens. Choice as a concept remains controversial for some as it is also viewed as a route along which the marketisation of public services can travel without challenge. Whilst this is a logical extension of the previous government’s agenda for Cameron and Co, for many in practice a free market approach to service delivery underpins many of the problems experienced in social care today.

Government has exploited the ambiguity in meaning of words such as personalisation and choice to enable the social work profession to retain a semblance of loyalty to its own values, whilst unknowingly carrying out the bidding of politicians with very different ideas about social care.

Research has explored how organisations encourage workers to engage in an agenda they do not necessarily agree with. Courpasson (2000) introduced the notion of ‘soft coercion’ which induces, simultaneously, commitment and obedience to the organisation and its aims.  Ambiguity in meaning is one such instrument of soft coercion, however, you also need to ensure the workforce accept your perspective.  One strategy used by large organisations has been the ‘company song’, often represented by the company policy which provides an organisational mantra, for example ‘personalisation leads to greater choice’.

Maybe it’s time to change the company song and for the social work profession to choose its own playlist, if it does not there will be many in government who will be happy to do it for us!

The mis-treatment of older people in hospitals; is a ‘trip advisor’ approach really the best way forward?

At what point does the government stop relying on gimmicks, voluntary codes and recommendations from those without any power to implement change and actually take a lead to improve nursing care for older people? 

The Royal College of  Nursing’s research into the provision of care to older people suggested staffing issues were central to good nursing care, government have responded to this by suggesting we need to take a ‘trip advisor’ approach to raising the quality of services (photos optional presumably!).  However, this is only part of the answer,  problems extend beyond staff to patient ratios and will require more than patient recommends to improve quality.  Working practices imported from the business sector into care provision, along with a poor attitude from wider society and government toward the care of older people in the UK also need to be addressed.

Abraham (DoH, 2011) suggested the mistreatment of older people in the NHS is not just about people being too busy, but also about staff  being indifferent to older people,  i.e. showing no particular interest or concern about older people.  Coming from a professional background, where I have worked with nurses in hospital settings and as an academic teaching student nurses, it is fair to say I have never met a nurse   who has purposely set out on their career to mistreat an older person.  On the contrary, they have entered the profession because they want to care for people.  So what changes once on the hospital ward?

Arguably, such indifference radiates from wider society onto the hospital ward.   Both Government and society are disrespectful of older people, describing older people as a ‘demographic time bomb’, their care portrayed as an expense we can ill afford.  Once such an attitude is prevalent in mainstream society is it any wonder a culture of disrespect flourishes across society, leading to the de-humanisation of the older person, wherever they might be.  As Jo Webber of the NHS Confederation rightly point out; once in a hospital bed the older person no longer matters – achieving the task at hand efficiently is more important than the individuals’ dignity. This then provides the foundations from which poor practice in the care of older people develops across a multitude of care providers from public sector institutions to private sector providers through to the individuals that make up society.

Whilst external factors have an important role in shaping attitudes toward older people, this alone does not fully explain professionals’ indifference to older people when providing care.  Understanding what happens between individuals embarking on nurse training to actually working with older people on a ward is also significant. Menzies Lyth’s research provides an interesting insight from which to understand what happens once on the ward.  Menzies Lyth drew on  Jaques (1955) notion of  ‘social defences’ used by nursing staff to manage the anxieties inherent within their practice to understand behaviour within organisations.

Jaques (1955) initially used social defences to understand how nurses cope with the high levels of stress and anxiety associated with the job. However, it was developed later to take into account structural factors arguing that social defences were the result of poor organisational structure. This provides a useful framework from which to explore how current structural systems interweave to produce an environment where mistreatment flourishes on hospital wards.

Social defence mechanisms include care for patients split into individual tasks undertaken by a number of nurses; one person performs the same task to many patients rather than working with one patient to provide all their care. This facilitates a distancing between the patient and nurse, which protects the nurse emotionally. Organisational factors support a depersonalised approach by moving nurses around wards, which then allows the nurse to distance themselves from patients so as not to become emotionally involved.  Other social defences include a denial of feelings and over emphasis on professional detachment and strategies to reduce anxiety around decision-making, for example working in prescriptive ways, performing repetitive tasks, and delegating decision-making.  The lack of connection between patient and nurse arguably facilitates an environment in which mistreatment might develop, or is ignored.  Therefore, the organisation and delivery of care at a structural level within the NHS is of relevance to improving care for older people.  Higher staff ratios would be a good start because we have to ask is it possible, emotionally, for an individual to deliver high quality care with compassion and dignity consistently in the current system?

Poor levels of care appear endemic within the current system, the speed with which each new revelation now appears is in danger of convincing government and society such an approach is the ‘norm’, however, we must be careful not to just accept this as inevitable, or somehow acceptable in a time of austerity.  Indifference toward the care of older people represents the tangible outworking of a system of care that has lost its way; where commissioning outweighs compassion and meeting the demands of the system outweigh delivering care with dignity.

At what point does the government stop relying on gimmicks, voluntary codes and recommendations from those without any power to implement change and actually take a lead to improve nursing care for older people?