Shortly after World War One, whilst the Spanish Flu pandemic was in full effect, the First Housing Act in the United Kingdom was introduced following a speech by the then prime minister, David Lloyd George in which he stated that the country should build “homes fit for heroes”.
The words ‘fight’ and ‘war’ have been used far too often to describe the current situation regarding Covid-19. The NHS, and belatedly social care staff have been called heroes for the way they have tackled this crisis. Yes, it was heart-warming to see the weekly ‘clap for the NHS’ in the UK during the early days of the crisis. But it divided opinion.
In an article published in The Guardian on the 22nd May1 it argues that ‘While some feel empowered and encouraged by the gesture, others think it is patronising, particularly in light of the government’s decision, later reversed, to continue charging overseas health and care staff for using the NHS.’ A further article ‘I’m an NHS doctor – and I’ve had enough of people clapping for me’2 is worth a read.
Watching interviews on UK TV with care staff during this crisis, it has struck me how staff express what is most important to them: To be able to show love, friendship and kindness. To make those they support and care for feel that they are part of a family.
They miss being able to give people hugs or even hold their hands. The emotional pain felt by staff in not being able to do this must be heart-breaking. It goes without saying the impact it must be having on the people they support.
In her article, ‘What motivates care workers?’ 3, Jill Manthorpe cites the work of Kirsten Bjerregaard4 and concludes that ‘Participants’ (Care staff) in surveys reported their work was fulfilling personally, because helping service users was satisfying. It was rewarding because they made a difference to service users’ lives. When they felt appreciated, this made their work enjoyable, but lack of appreciation was also heartfelt.
This crisis has amplified this need, but it has always been in plain sight. In my experience, too often care services have seen this motivation in staff to have their emotional needs met at work as being a side issue, unconnected or even a hindrance to the ‘delivery of care’.
I believe that meeting this need is the core of creating a service where people ‘receiving care’ feel that there is something still worth living for. Too many people in care homes experience unimaginable emotional pain.
We need to encourage and empower care homes to be places where it is not considered ‘brave’ or ‘heroic’ to put meeting people’s emotional needs first.
Care organisations across the globe need to place the values of love, friendship and family front and centre of what they do. No more vague policy statements about person centred care.
We need to re-examine why we do this. It’s not hard, we need to ask the care staff. In action this means a new deal for recruitment, leadership, learning and development and professional recognition. What this means in practice, I would like to explore next time.
1Let’s stop clapping for the NHS, says woman who started the ritual PA media, 2020 www.theguardian.com
4‘The Shared Experience of Care: A Social Identity Approach to Understanding the Motivation of People who Work in Social Care.’ 2014. Bjerregaard, K. University