28 March 2023

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Care Homes: a major investment opportunity

Maaike Vandeweghe shares her reflections on our latest Care Homes conference

It was so heartening at a time when the workforce issues affecting the sector are so great, that more than 50 managers and care home staff came and engaged so fully in our conference for south east London and Croydon homes earlier this month.

St Christopher’s relationship with homes across the five London boroughs we serve is deep and longstanding. Since the start of COVID-19 though the opportunities to engage in person have been severely limited. We designed this half-day event to fulfil two main purposes. Firstly, and really importantly, we wanted to celebrate the incredible work care homes are doing. Crucially, we want to build on those foundations to help care homes be ready to face the upcoming challenge – namely the demographic changes which will see many more frail elderly needing their support in the last years of life. Only by working together, sharing our collective knowledge and skills will we be able to meet that challenge.

Given that many of those who came to the conference hadn’t been to St Christopher’s CARE, we took the chance to put on two skills workshops, demonstrating the power of in-person learning we offer. Delegates were able to brush up their syringe driver skills and challenge their preconceptions about breathlessness. In fact, at the end of that one many people had changed their minds completely.

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Delegates heard from Dr Anna Bone, Lecturer in Epidemiology and Palliative Care at Cicely Saunders Institute as she acknowledged the extraordinary contribution care homes have made to end of life care and looked ahead to how they can further optimise that care to ready themselves for 2040 by when it’s predicted care homes will be the most common place of death.

That’s where Helen King, Nurse Consultant, St Christopher’s, came in, echoing the recognition of the enormous value care homes bring to end of life care but emphasising that by working in closer collaboration, we can collectively be even more effective.

Neither care homes nor hospices, even with the help of GPs and district nurses can support everyone who is dying, working independently. I am convinced that care homes are the hospices of the future and that it is our responsibility to support them to fulfil that role. Already they are streets ahead of us in areas like dementia care, and we need to learn from care homes. But in the areas where care homes don’t feel so confident we need them to be absolutely clear with us what they need and how we can best deliver it. 

Proof of the extraordinary expertise already being practised in care homes was evident in the inspiring displays of five care homes, focusing on successful innovations they’d introduced – including staff wellbeing programmes, a rehabilitative care model and the Namaste programme for dementia residents.

This was a fantastic reminder that care homes are leaders in this field – often without realising it. I closed the conference by appealing to delegates to realise their contribution then step up and take a seat at the relevant tables where decisions are being made. Delegates were encouraged to connect with their local integrated care system, and to ensure they are present as equals. I stressed that for care homes to sit comfortably at those tables and to really own that seat, care home leaders must commit to leading by example and being advocates not only for their residents but also for their workforce.

We have an enormous range of learning opportunities for care homes here at St Christopher’s CARE, including a new addition that I’m really excited about. Starting in April, individual homes can request and participate in debrief and reflection sessions with a facilitator with whom they’re familiar, to review and discuss specific incidents or clinical scenarios which could include people from the wider multidisciplinary. It’s this kind of practical learning that I believe will strengthen ties between St Christopher’s and our local care homes as well as encourage the kind of deep learning experiences that can only enhance the care people will receive at the end of life – which is after all our shared goal.

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