The way we care for older people
On 11 May the Queen will give a speech to mark the state opening of Parliament and set out the UK Government’s agenda as they look to ‘build back better’ after Covid-19. Stephen Hammersley from Pilgrims’ Friend Society says putting a spotlight on the way we care for older people is vital
As the Queen speaks, I doubt the image of her sitting alone at Prince Philip's funeral, just a few weeks ago, will be far from any of our minds. Alone without the comfort and support of friends and family. It was a heart-breaking image, one that won’t easily be forgotten. It made us want to gather our loved ones close and reminded us of the importance of community and caring for one another.
Isolation and loneliness have featured a lot in the news, and in many of our lives, over the last year of lockdown. As part of the Queen’s speech, ministers are expected to bring forward the long-awaited proposals on reforming social care that Boris Johnson pledged on his very first day in Downing Street in July 2019. He has spoken of the need to bridge the gulf between the NHS and social care provision and to ‘fix’ the system with long-term reform.
The pandemic has resulted in a significant increase in understanding the importance of care of older people and those who work tirelessly in this sector, often without sufficient resources. The image of the Queen and the pain of isolation in that moment of grieving is a powerful reminder that ‘fixing’ the social care system is not just be about closing the funding gap with the NHS, it is about also focusing on the way we care.
At Pilgrims’ Friend Society, one of the foundational principles of the care we provide in all our homes is recognising that people are made for community and family. ‘The Way We Care’ approach we have developed was designed to ensure older people don’t just have their basic needs met in later life, but that they thrive. Being able to provide a family-like community with a shared faith is an underpinning principal within all our care homes.
The spiritual flourishing and shared understanding faith bring are precious to both our residents and their loved ones. As a Christian care home charity all we do is rooted in the Bible, and it is there we see that community is at the heart of human flourishing. The Bible inspired ‘The Way We Care’ approach and is central to the care we give our residents and their families. We are called to care for the frail and vulnerable. We are told that “God sets the lonely in families” (Psalm 68:6), we are specifically called not to “cast aside” the old (Psalm 71:9) and to respect their wisdom and experience (Proverbs 20:29).
Roy, who is 85 and has been living at Luff House, Walton-on-the-Naze since July 2019, is now in the later stages of Alzheimer’s Disease. He has been a committed Christian all his life and his family knew that a Christian care home was the right place for him.
The regular devotional times at the home are a particular comfort to him. His wife, Sue, shared how, “He recognises the rhythms of the songs and liturgy, which makes him feel at ease”. He can find peace in the songs he has sung since childhood, like ‘Love Divine, All Loves Excelling’ and ‘Lord of All Hopefulness.’
As well as providing community we are also committed to valuing each and every individual under our care. Sue has commented, “What makes all the difference is that the staff ‘read’ Roy. They know his personality and can sense what he is feeling. I know by his demeanour that he feels safe and cared for. And that means I feel safe with him there, too.”
Right from creation we see that each person is created in God’s image, each has an inherent value and dignity in the eyes of God. That image does not have an expiry date or diminish with time. We have value and dignity whatever our age or ability. The Bible tells us that we can always bear fruit, even in our oldest days (Psalm 92v14).
This is so clear in people like Roy. Having spent his lifetime serving others through his career, mapping charts and maps, as a youth worker and as a volunteer in church restoration during his retirement, he is now a supportive and much-loved member of the community at Luff House.
We are passionate about not just caring to the immediate physical needs of our residents but appreciating the essence and spirit of each person – the history, the experiences, the joys and the sorrows and understanding who the important people are in their lives.
More needs to be done about the underfunding of social care, especially as the general population gets older; many Christians are politically engaged and active and could encourage their MPs and local councils to think properly about this issue.
As we look to the Queen’s speech for support and reform for social care, we must keep the value of the individuals under our care at the centre of our thinking and include a community outlook. We must remember it is not just about taking care of the day-to-day needs of those in care, it is about the way we care for them.
Stephen Hammersley is CEO at Pilgrims’ Friend Society, a Christian charity that supports older people to live fulfilled later lives in their residential care homes and independent living housing schemes in England and Scotland. The charity also works alongside churches, inspiring and equipping them to work in the community with older people.
Visit their website or follow them on social media @PilgrimsFS
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