As the mother of young children, I spend a lot more time thinking about supporting people at the beginning of their lives than towards the end of their lives. But my daughters are statistically likely to live to be a hundred – a strange thought. So, I seized a recent opportunity to connect with a care home close to where I live in south west London and find out more about what some of the issues might be, alongside my colleague Clara Swinson, Director of Social Care Policy.
Galsworthy House is on Kingston Hill and backs onto Richmond Park. It’s a grand and historic (if sometimes impractical) building in a lovely setting, and you can see why the rooms with a view of the Park are sought after. Most of the residents are in their nineties, which I calculated means that they were teenagers during the Second World War; probably having their children during the 50s; would be retiring by the 80s when I was still at primary school, and turned 70 whilst I was at university. It’s mindboggling to think just how much they have all seen and experienced, and sobering to be forced to confront how intense the support they need is. It made me ask questions about how much respect society accords to its most senior members.
Galsworthy House is run by a dynamic team headed by 3 impressive women who each bring different skills and experience. The leadership that they demonstrate is palpable and every member of staff that we spoke to – from the care assistants to the nurses, from the physio to the chef – clearly understood their vision of supporting residents to have the best possible quality of life. Clara and I participated in an exercise class and met some of the residents, as well as sampling some delicious food (the team prides itself on the fact that the residents often gain weight after they arrive). The quality of leadership and dedication to the work was impressive: reminding me how essential these skills are in any context.
Although the pastoral support is important, much of what happens at Galsworthy House is essentially medical and it also struck me how important it was for what they were doing to fit into the health and care system as a whole. Galsworthy House are very focused on keeping their residents out of hospital where possible and offering palliative care rather than transferring people to a hospice when their time comes. Clara discussed knowledgably with the team the ins and outs of the available funding streams, which I wasn’t able to contribute to, but the point about the cost of looking after an aging population and the challenge of funding that was obvious.
As a relatively recent recruit to DH, I am a huge fan of the Connecting Programme. It gives me an excellent reason to find out more about what the issues are for real people doing real jobs in the health and social care system. This is partly about helping me to do my job better, but it’s also about understanding and empathising with the whole system – and about what that means throughout the cycle of life.