Inspiring carers – all too often overlooked

Alex Greenwood is a recent graduate who’s been exposed to the realities of domiciliary care through her work with Konnektis, a hub digitizing social care and communication, facilitating better care for those in their own homes. She tweets @konnektis 

alexHaving lost my grandparents at an early age, I had very limited understanding of the realities of care. Through my work with Konnektis, and the inherently person-centred process of co-design, I am gaining privileged access to the outstanding work of carers. A commonly misunderstood and under-appreciated profession, carers have  been absorbing the the pressures of our overstretched care system for years and the sector is now at breaking point. Whilst recent public concern over sustainability of care in the context of an aging population is an important debate, it is these inspiring carers – all too often overlooked – whose stories I wish to share in this space.

I spoke to home care manager ‘Helen’ about what care meant for her:

“You’ve got to be committed and dedicated because your family life has to change… because they become your family in a sort of way. If you don’t feel like that, you can’t do the job”

However, the reality of providing vulnerable people care 365 days a year is inherently challenging:

“At Christmas, we have staff saying ‘I can’t work because I’ve got children’.  But at the end of the day, service users still need care. And some come in and say, ‘I’ll work Christmas morning. I love working Christmas morning’

“I used to deliver Christmas dinners to those that have microwave meals. So as my kids grew up, we used to get up Christmas morning and I’d be making loads of Christmas dinners… We’d go see all these older people, and we used to go to Fred, who’s passed away now, who had nobody. So we all used to save a present that we’d got at home and we’d take him a gift, and then we’d all sit together and open us presents together and then he’d have his dinner.”

Indeed, the challenges of providing a 24-hour service, seven days a week absorbs your life completely.

“We used to do emergency duty team cover and one of their staff called in sick. So this home-care manager rung me at half 6 in the morning… asking ‘can you help?’. There was only me… eight and a half months pregnant… I said, ‘I’ll sort it’. So I met him at quarter past seven. He gave me this list and he said ‘right, so are you gonna give that to a carer’ and I said ‘no I’m doing it’…  ‘there isn’t any feet washing on here?… If I have to crouch down I might not get back up!’ … When I had my baby two weeks later, all the council bought me presents and everything!”

I asked Helen what the hardest bit of the job was:

“I think the dying, for me, that’s the hardest thing. When you care, it means so much to you. And then you lose someone… But this chap Fred, he died while I was on holiday… I came home from my family holiday. Because he had nobody. It was only me…  I still have his ashes.”

Finally Helen was keen to emphasise why she is a carer, despite its challenges:

“No day is the same. And when you know you’ve done a good job, and somebody tells you you’ve done a good job. Or when you’ve rehabilitated someone, that’s the best thing ever… Because that’s what we’re about it’s about independent living.”

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As I left the office, in a complete state of awe, I felt privileged to have met such a passionate professional, with capacity for ‘care’ in its fullest sense. Yet there was simultaneously a darker narrative backdrop to Helen’s stories. One of an underfunded, under-staffed sector reliant on the commitment of figures such as Helen stepping in while 8-months pregnant. The recent Impact Statement for UKHCA found that by 2035, 17.3 million people will be 65+, and seven out of ten adults want to live at home until they die. Perhaps it is time that as a society, we begin to recognise, celebrate, reward and reinvest in the incredible work of professionals like Helen, before it’s too late for this precarious, but invaluable sector.

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