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Care homes were once a career backwater – many are now quality leaders

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Do you sometimes feel as if jargon does too much talking in healthcare? I sometimes hear nurses say that they or their colleagues use it to make themselves feel better about how clever they are, but in doing so, they miss the point – it doesn’t make their patients or service users feel better.

On Monday, I visited a couple of homes for veterans in Scotland, run by Erskine. It was refreshing to hear the charity’s director of care, Derek Barron, articulating this view.

He believes one of the many things that make Erskine different is calling a spade a spade and getting rid of “pseudoclinical clap-trap”.

“You’re not assisting people to mobilise”, he told me. “You’re helping them walk down the corridor.”

In his view, helping residents to live life to the full and have options about how they do that is the most important role of his staff. And having real conversations with residents – without hiding behind clinical jargon – is vital to that.

“The training has had a stunning impact on both staff and residents”

The two homes I visited, Erskine Home and Erskine Park, felt just like that – homes. They didn’t feel like clinical environments, and were filled with people who clearly felt important and cared for.

Erskine Park’s manager Lesley Wylie told me about a resident with dementia who initially struggled with not returning to her own home.

“So we gave her a shed in the garden, put in a sofa and put up curtains. She could go there and clean the windows, and we made her feel like it was her home,” she said.

Janice McAlister, a nurse consultant specialising in dementia, has provided training for nearly half of Erskine’s 700 staff to help them appreciate the difficulties residents with dementia have in performing everyday tasks.

One house on the Erskine site has been converted into a simulation suite, where staff from finance, HR and admin as well as clinicians, don suits and goggles that simulate the experience of frailty and sensory decline.

“Perhaps the most impressive use of tech was for residents’ emotional wellbeing”

White noise is played in the background, and Janice films them trying to perform everyday tasks such as eating, folding towels or looping a belt through trousers.

She and the trainees then watch the videos to see how their behaviour while in the suits can be misinterpreted as ‘challenging’ when actually the tasks they were attempting were just difficult or impossible to perform. The training has had a stunning impact on both staff and residents.

Erskine care was impressive at every turn. They use technology to keep residents safe, from computerised drug records that incorporate pictures of residents and alert staff when residents are due to receive medication, to personalised digital care plans.

Perhaps the most impressive use of tech was for residents’ emotional wellbeing. The homes encourage residents and relatives to make a playlist of their favourite music, so that residents can listen to it in their own time to help soothe and assist reminiscence.

“According to relatives, it’s been a transformational experience, particularly in palliative care”

They also employ a Namaste Care therapist; ‘namaste’ literally means “I bow to you” and is the acknowledgement by one soul of another. The therapist uses Namaste Care techniques to help soothe distressed residents or those at the end of life.

I saw one resident having hand and foot massages, and the therapist said therapeutic touch was important to healing and wellbeing. The room was filled with relaxing sensory stimulation – gentle music, candlelight, the image of snow falling in a wintry scene on the television screen.

Continuing the theme of therapeutic touch, simulation animals and furry cushions are available for residents to stroke. According to relatives, it’s been a transformational experience, particularly in palliative care.

This is the sort of care all nurses want to provide, so it’s little wonder I met many newly qualified nurses who were opting to start their careers in a care home – a setting once seen as the place to see out the twilight of your career.

The profession and care are changing as a result of the pressures we’ve applied elsewhere, and it’s never been more important to respect nursing wherever it is practised; it’s not hard to respect it when you see such outstanding care.

This was not just a place that is about saying the right thing, but doing the right thing. And it was heart-warming to see. 

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