Coronavirus Days part 5 – Keeping people safe in care

As I write this I am like everyone else increasingly horrified at the rising death rates in care homes – large care homes where social distancing is nigh-on impossible.

In mid-March I determined we had three organisational priorities – one was keeping as many of the people we support alive as possible and another was similarly focussed on our colleagues. Having listened to our family consultants and our colleagues I decided we would not provide a running internal commentary on our statistics, nor share any details on social media. But I will today for the first and hopefully last time share some numbers here.

Photo of Steve Scown
Steve Scown, Dimensions CEO, blogs

We support over 3500 adults with learning disabilities and autism, many of whom have underlying health conditions. So far, fewer than five have died as a result of contracting Covid19 whilst in our care. These are not numbers, they are people and each death is a tragedy leaving family members and my colleagues grieving.

So I am going to use this week’s blog to make three observations about the conditions that lead to people being safe in care through this pandemic.

Large care homes

Was it only two months ago that Care England called for a relaxation of CQC’s rules on ‘registering the right support,’ arguing against the 6 person limit on commercial grounds?

My first observation is directed at anyone – commissioners, providers, policymakers – who has ever been in favour of larger care homes: please think again.

Please continue to support people to live ordinary lives, outside of the large institutional environments that are so disempowering.

(Yes, we have a small handful of services – all inherited from other providers – where more than 6 people live together. Shrinking that number remains a priority. We do not subscribe to the Care England view that small homes are not commercially viable.)

I don’t know if we will ever in our lifetime see another pandemic, I hope not. I do know however, if there was one I wouldn’t want a relative of mine cared for in a large care home. There will always be providers prepared to build and fill large care homes for commercial reasons – not values driven ones.

Following the Social Care Action Plan, I understand the CQC is now gathering data on infection rates across all care home environments. I know Chris Hatton amongst many others has been calling for this recently. Whilst I’m keen to read his analysis and insight – I’m also partly dreading it as behind the numbers are real people who will have died.

Grit, and creativity

Some families criticised us for this – some of our own colleagues questioned it. I have no idea whether this early decision made a difference – frankly we will never know. And after 7 weeks of lockdown my colleagues are understandably tired and frustrated and looking for a light at the end of the tunnel. But the restrictions aren’t going away any time soon and when they are eased they will be eased slowly – necessarily so.

Until all restrictions are removed – and I suspect that day is many months away – our challenge is to find the grit and determination inside each of us to sustain the sacrifices we have been making for so long and to continue to help people, whose behaviour risks becoming challenging, to understand the importance of isolation and social distancing.

It means continuing to tap our well of creativity, and to draw freely from others’. It means all of us playing our part in getting through as best as we can.

A Great Place to Work

My final point is directed at government.

This week we had a real boost when we learnt we have been placed 13th in the ‘super large’ category of the Great Places to Work programme – one of very few social care organisations to place:

That’s one indicator of my colleagues’ morale. Here’s another: Less than 5% of our 7000-strong workforce is currently off sick due to Covid-19 (even though we chose to pay sick pay from day 1 to encourage those with symptoms to stay home.)

My colleagues continue to step up in so many ways to help us realise our first aim – keeping people we support alive. They’ve done additional training in infection control and isolation care (which we have made freely available across the sector through VODG and Learning Disability England) and continue every day to make significant personal sacrifices because they care.

Tonight, alongside so many other people across our country, I shall be clapping our combined health and care workforces, and other keyworkers, with real pride.