My family's experience shows how care homes can make a difference

Freelance writer Anita Slater

Freelance writer Anita Slater - Credit: Anita Slater

Care homes have been in the news quite a bit over the pandemic, and for good reason. Cuts to staff pay, social funding cuts, and short-term changes to tier restrictions place care homes in a precarious situation, but we need to demand this changes. 

I saw over the last eight months the great work being done by one care home in Kentish town, when a close family member, my mother's former husband Roy Knox, became a resident there.

In a quiet road off the high street lies an inconspicuous building seated behind a modest archway. When I first saw it with my mum, I was struck by the open and cheerful atmosphere felt from the visible conservatory.  

 Ash Court Care Centre

Ash Court Care Centre - Credit: Ash Court Care Centre

This building is Ash Court Care Centre, a purpose-built nursing home with 60 bedrooms, providing 24-hour residential nursing. The sense of purpose extends beyond the material, and each staff member is trained to understand residents beyond their immediate care needs. 

What makes Ash Court special according to the manager Steven Anderson is “recognising that our staff are all unique, too, and we try to ensure that they play to their strengths”. For example, the staff are often paired with residents who have similar interests, or matching hobbies. 

The centre creates harmony between providing care and ensuring freedom, shown through the way Roy was treated during his months there. Roy spent his life as an exceptional artist and was a very independent character. In Ash Court, he didn’t engage in many activities and had a very specific diet. 

Artist Roy Knox

Artist Roy Knox - Credit: Roy Knox

Yet, the staff maintained a balance of keeping him company and asking about his paintings, whilst ensuring he was given control over decisions and space. The staff even showed Roy’s uniqueness through making a calendar with a photo they took of him, which, much to my family’s joy, managed to capture his distinctive expression. 

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The attention to detail was not only shown in lived time, but also through practices of remembrance. After Roy’s passing in January, a candle was lit for him in his room and a star placed in the conservatory in his memory.   

The creation of community whilst maintaining the identity of each resident characterises Ash Court’s approach to care. The home uses a company called OOMPH that develops specific activities, such as learning lyrics to a song.

However, when residents don’t want to engage in group activities, Steven states that “this is where the relationships with our team come into their own” for example by taking residents to the local shops, to the seaside, or organising a drive.

Many of these options are not possible right now and this is why attention to a holistic approach to care is essential.

 Ash Court Care Centre

Ash Court Care Centre - Credit: Ash Court Care Centre

Steven is a registered mental health nurse, as are many of the centre’s staff. Whilst external specialist mental health care units are vital, Steven emphasises that staff “take into consideration the psychological impact of physical illness on people” because of their mental health training.

Recent King's Fund analysis has found that the pandemic has shone a light on problems with social care that demand reform.

Whilst Ash Court pays staff above the National Living Wage, Steven says “it would help the sector as a whole if the pay for nurses and carers recognised people’s skills and dedication financially”.

The care home residents are funded through a mixture of self-funding or local authority and NHS funding, that care home experts help them apply for. Due to increasingly limited social funding, care home residency will likely become more competitive.

Ash Court sits as a glimmer of hope in a presently grim situation. This is why it’s crucial to notice how this specific home provides great care. Otherwise, the centre will stand as a rare example, instead of a representative of care nationwide.  

  • Anita Slater is a freelance writer based in Hampstead.

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