In this week’s blog post from the Coronavirus and dementia in care homes (CoDeC) study, lead researcher Andrea Capstick issues a plea for care home staff to receive the same recognition and accolades as NHS staff, and we launch our campaign to thank them for all they have done during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Throughout the coronavirus pandemic relatively little has been heard about the people who staff our care homes. They have rarely been mentioned by comparison with NHS staff working in hospitals. Yet figures show that during the pandemic so far social care workers have been among the most at-risk groups for both death from coronavirus and long-term psychological trauma. Whilst nobody wants to deny NHS staff one jot of the well-deserved praise they have received for their work in caring for the sick – and increasingly sending them home well again – what is the reason for this silence about the role played by those who have kept our care homes running under such terrible circumstances?
Since the beginning of the lockdown period these staff – already working in a relatively low-paid sector with an ongoing legacy of austerity – have experienced a vast change in their working conditions. For this they have received little or no preparation, and scant reward. They have been forced to take admissions from hospital of people already infected with the virus. They have had to impose lockdown conditions on older people with dementia who were not able to understand the reasons for their loss of freedom of movement, in many cases experiencing this as forcible imprisonment. They have had to continue carrying out personal care without adequate PPE. They have had to care for terminally ill residents in accommodation designed for residential use rather than medical treatment. They have had to administer invasive coronavirus tests to people who were too confused to understand why this needed to be done. They have had to deal with family members who could no longer visit and were justifiably hurt and angry about it. They have had to deal with those same relatives, now grief-stricken, when a parent, spouse or sibling they had not seen for months died.
In our research study on coronavirus and dementia in care homes (CoDeC) over the last six months we have heard all these stories and more. We have also heard stories of amazing self-sacrifice, ingenuity, creative thinking and teamwork that have enabled care homes to keep running and to keep the vast majority of those living within them safe and well. We don’t hear about care home staff, because we don’t hear about the people who live in care homes. We didn’t hear about older people in care homes dying from coronavirus for far too long during the first wave of Covid, and the Government has, since then, seemed repeatedly to fail to understand or prioritise the well-being and rights of care home residents. The UK Alzheimer’s Society has described this as ‘abandonment’ – an emotive word, but one which the circumstances seem to demand.
So, let’s do something about this. NHS staff had their clap. What are we going to do for care home staff? Some of them are going to carry the trauma of coronavirus with them for years to come, and according to published research one of the biggest factors in preventing trauma is to give appropriate recognition, thanks and reward for the sacrifices that have been made.
Here is one small contribution to paying that debt.
After the clap
This is for the 64-hour week you worked
And the last words you listened to
For the hands you held
And the hugs you put before your own safety
This is for the silence after the clap
In which you were not mentioned
For the MBEs you won’t receive
And the pay cuts (in real terms) that you will
This is for all of you
At the front of the front line
Doing the best you can every day
In a world that no longer has a rule book
This is for the bedside
At the border between life and death
Where you sit, keeping watch
When no-one else is looking
And the world turns away
Picture by Amanda, Participant in the CoDeC study
Written by Dr Andrea Capstick