The team would like to thank John Walsh – Practice Manager, York Street Health Practice, Leeds Community Healthcare NHS Trust and Sue Ellis – Director of Workforce, Leeds Community Healthcare NHS Trust for this weeks blog post on Celebrating Carers.
‘When I was young, I admired clever people. Now that I am old, I admire kind people.’ – Abraham Joshua Heschel
Judith works in a health centre as a admin worker. Her father is elderly and his health and mobility are failing. Her dad’s main carer is Judith’s mum. Judith doesn’t live with her dad and mum but has always been close. Her dad was recently rushed into hospital and discharged a few weeks later. Judith started to visit every night after work to see her dad and support her mum. She found this hard going as her mum was getting exhausted and overwhelmed with the everyday tasks. Judith wanted to keep on helping. One night at home she started to cry and couldn’t stop herself. A deep sadness welled up and she wept at seeing the two people she loved most in the world going through this awful situation. Waking up the next day she felt she needed to share this at work more and decided to talk to her manager. She emailed him and had a meeting booked for that day. The manager listened and was understanding. He asked her what she needed. Judith didn’t really know what she needed from work. She wasn’t ill as far as she knew but felt a total dedication to her parents along with a total feeling of not knowing how to deal with the situation. The manager suggested counselling. Judith wasn’t sure about this but decided to give it a go. This was not an easy step to take but did help. The sessions with a counsellor helped her a lot to see things more clearly and better manage herself and the whole process. Her manager also encouraged her to consider whether she could share with work colleagues if she felt that this was appropriate. She wasn’t sure of this and wanted more time to think about it. Her workplace was fortunately a friendly place. Judith’s manager met with her and in an non pressing way talked about how she and her parents were. The holding of caring for her parents, looking after her own emotional health and managing her job were a challenge for Judith.
Judith is one of many many people who offer kindness, support and care to those loved ones who are ill and suffering. They receive no payment, no compensation and have no clocking on / off times. They are there because they are there. They are there because they love and care. When health and social care professionals visit they don’t sometimes ask the carer how they are coping or managing. At Christmas when people remember health staff working the Christmas period ( and rightly so! ) carers who are working in many cases 365 days a year including Christmas don’t often get mentioned. This is not intentional. The truth is carers get forgotten by many of us. Yet they are the constant fabric and support that enables our health and social care systems to keep on going. We also see carers as separate from health staff and patients. Yet Judith was both a health worker and carer. She became the recipient of a health counselling service. The boxes we make – patient, staff and carer – can be useful. They can also blur and hide the reality of a given situation.
Caring is at the centre of being human. Caring challenges us and can bring out in us the worst and best bits of our personality. Through caring we can better understand the needs of others and how services should work. We live in an era where so rightly patients and their voice and rights are called for. We also need to all work to recognise and support the voices of carers. Carers really are unsung heroes and heroines who even as we write are doing the daily tasks to support loved ones. We have to include carers in the decisions, development and hopes of our services. There is also a real urgency in understanding the loss of loved one and its impact on a carer as they may have put their own needs and interests on hold and now feel totally lost. As services try to listen to patients we should seek that they bend to engage more and more with carers. In their voice – which is also our voice in so many cases – we will find valuable critiques of our systems and ways forward to create best care. Our conferences and policy papers should wherever possible catch the voice, experience and expertise of carers. In this way we can restructure systems around people and their needs not just expect people to be passive recipients of services. The promotion of a ‘People First’ care offers much. People First means patients, carers and staff in a co-learning and supportive alliance.
The writer Cleveland Amory noted that, ‘ What this world needs is a new kind of army — the army of the kind.’ It actually already has one. Carers are an army that around the clock despite the tiredness and challenges deliver care and kindness. They are a force that keeps the world turning in the right direction. The authors themselves have been carers for elderly parents while trying to keep work going and home life going. We dedicate this to all those doing this amazing and challenging work. We especially wish to mention Tommy Whiteside who provides that compassionate and humble voice and presence which is so necessary. May 2015 be a year when People First approaches start to have real effect and we can make the best care and alliances possible.
John and Sue