All eyes are on the new Secretary of State for Health AND Social Care. “We’ve just got to have a proper, long term sustainable settlement for social care,” he says.
But we know it’s not just money. Social care itself needs transformation. It’s not a matter of more institutional structures – more beds in care homes. The purpose of social care must be to enable people to live as full a life as possible, with the people they love, in communities that support each other.
For that to happen, people need to become the focus. And that includes the need to recognise the support and care that friends and family members give. If we think of dementia care, 850,000 people (at least) are currently living with dementia, with 700,000 families (at least) involved in their lives. This army of volunteers may not have chosen this role. They are not really ‘volunteers’. But they know that what they are doing is vital and can’t be replaced. The ‘care’ they give should not be institutionalised. What they need is the right support to enable them to continue, including guidance and answers to their questions, social and medical resources, the realistic possibility of respite, encouragement from day to day.
One of the most valuable things would be to have a single point of contact for all this – support that is professional, relational and accessible.
There may be different models for this. Perhaps the best is to have teams that are structured to relate to people, giving wholistic support for the range of needs that a person – and their caregivers – may need.
The Alzheimer's Society’s challenge seems to be heading in that direction. It is calling on the government to
· provide people living with dementia with intensive support from professionals in community care
· consider the needs of informal carers
· develop a plan that local bodies can complement with their own local plans, tailored to the needs of people with dementia in their community.
Neil Crowther speaks of “…community micro-enterprises, care coops, self-managing teams, Circles offering highly personalised support in the 'small places close to home'.”
We found a team like this. It really changed our experience of care. They do exist but only in some places. We need to re-structure social care so that they become the norm, not the exception.