Residential care staff are a very special group of people. They give their all, every shift, to ensure that the care home residents they look after receive the personal care, companionship and stimulation they need to live happy, dignified and fulfilled lives.
Here at QS, we know that care home staff deliver such an important role. However, the general public seldom sees what goes on behind the closed doors of nursing homes. That changed recently when Ed Balls worked in a care home for a new BBC documentary, Inside the Care Crisis. The two-part programme lifted the lid on what care professionals experience when working in a residential setting and also in the community providing at-home care.
So how did the BBC2 documentary portray life in a care home?
On the front line
The show follows the former Labour politician as he takes on the role of a care worker in a care home, working 12-hour shifts over a two-week period during the pandemic. He’s trained in-house by Saint Cecilia’s Nursing Home and Saint Cecilia’s Care Home in Scarborough, where he lives on-site as he takes responsibility for caring for the older people who call the facilities their home.
He takes a hands-on approach, and as well as interviewing staff and residents he also gets a chance to immerse himself in the reality of life as a carer – if only for a short time. During the programme, viewers see Mr Balls shadowing care worker Allison as she goes about her regular duties and faces her everyday challenges, including having to help calm residents with dementia when they become physical. Under his mentor’s careful watch, he then helps wash and dress residents, gets others out of bed using a hoist, applies creams, changes pads, and helps with dinner time.
He quickly realises that the work is intense and much harder than expected as it’s both physically and emotionally demanding.
A personal passion to explore life in a care home
Ed’s motivation for wanting to learn more about the reality of life in a care home comes from a very personal place. Like many individuals who work in the sector today, Ed has familial experience of coping with individuals who need extra support.
On the show, viewers see Mr Balls, along with this sister, visit his mother who moved into a nursing home three years ago and openly discuss his mother’s diagnosis of dementia and the family’s decision to choose residential care. He notes that “Dementia is a cruel disease that affects nearly a million people in the UK”. and “Our aging population means we’re going to see more of it.”
Staffing challenges remain
The documentary comes at a time when local councils and private providers across the UK are struggling to recruit the staff they need to maintain good care.
Recent data from Skills for Care, show that the average provider had 9.2% of vacancies unfilled in November 2021. The previous month, this figure sat at 8.9%. Looking at specific roles, for care workers, the figure was 11.3%, registered managers 11.6% and registered nurses 17.4%, while in domiciliary care it was 12%. At the same time, filled posts have fallen month-on-month since July and were 3.4% below March 2021 levels in November.
Separate figures from the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services found mounting waiting lists for assessments and personal budgets and a 164% increase in commissioned home care hours left undelivered between May-July and August-September.
Against this backdrop, the government has recently launched an adult social care recruitment campaign in a bid to fill the hole in the workforce caused by the pandemic, Brexit and mandatory vaccinations for care workers. The government says more than 105,000 vacancies need to be filled currently and almost half a million extra job opportunities in adult social care are expected by 2035.
In the BBC documentary, Mike Padgham, Managing Director at Saint Cecilia’s – which is a family-run business – shares how skills shortages are affecting the sector, revealing, “The staffing crisis has been exacerbated by Brexit robbing the sector of overseas job applicants and people finding other, less stressful and better-paid work elsewhere. If this documentary can help get the crisis in social care higher up the political agenda and bring about some positive change, it will have been well worth it.”
He also added, “I am grateful to our residents, their relatives and our staff for agreeing to take part in the documentary. Doing things like this does bring with it risk but we wanted to show the blood, sweat and tears that is shed to provide care in 2021”.
The reality of life in a care home
While the skilled and dedicated professionals who work in care homes know only too well what is really involved, audiences at home rarely get to see the intellectual and emotional investment that nurses, HCAs, and other staff give to the people they look after. As Ed Balls reflected during his experience: “It was the realisation that I thought I knew what care was, and I didn’t. The fact is, either as a family member or an MP, I never got close to comprehending the intensity of the job… Even as a family member, with my mum in a care home, I didn’t realise how personal, difficult and challenging it would be to work as a carer.”
As Ed Balls demonstrates, life in a care home is never easy – particularly during a pandemic – but it is so worthwhile and extremely rewarding. Here at QS, we know just how hard our staff work – and we truly appreciate everything they do.