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29 January 2016

Paschal McKeownThe care of older people was justly high on the agenda in 2015. From concerns about the way that people are supported in residential homes, to hospital waiting lists and treatment times, a spotlight has been shone on how care is not always meeting our reasonable expectations, and in some instances falling short of regulatory standards, of quality, dignity, independence and choice.

Our society is ageing, we all know this, and our ageing population in itself is not a burden but something we should celebrate and feel proud of. We all want older people to enjoy a healthy and fulfilling life, to be valued for their contribution and recognised for their diversity.

At a time of austerity and increased pressures on our health and social care services, quality care should not be viewed as an optional extra. Rather, our challenge is to ensure the delivery of quality, person-centred and dignified care where every person is treated as an individual and time is taken to understand, plan for and deliver what is important to that person. High quality care should lead to improvements in the quality of life for those individuals receiving it.

While minimum standards exist to provide the basic benchmark for all care providers, if we are to attain the highest standards of care we all need to understand what excellent care looks like. The starting point for this should always be listening to the voices of those older people who receive care. And in our experience, they have a lot to say on the issue.

Involving people who receive care in all its forms (hospital, residential, day and at home), as well as their family and friends, is fundamental to our understanding of what it takes to deliver high quality care. Some older people, particularly those who no longer have close family involved in their life, or where there are concerns about their capacity to make decisions, may require advocacy support to have their views heard.

Last year, we spoke with people in nursing home settings all over NI to hear how they felt about their standards of care. It won’t surprise anyone that what people wanted most were simple things - a fish supper from a take-away on a Friday night; pictures of their family in their room; a cup of tea for their visitors. In other words, the little things that enabled them to feel at home and to feel like themselves.

We believe that quality improvement in care requires leadership and time commitment. That’s why Age NI is involved in a number of quality improvement partnerships. One of these, My Home Life, is a UK-wide initiative that promotes quality of life and delivers positive change in care homes for older people. Key to this project is how it provides a virtual learning community and resources for those involved in the delivery of care to continuously improve. We also work with local care providers and Unison on the Care Homes Partnership, to support care practice that empowers residents and has a positive impact on care staff.

Many care providers across NI are striving to provide high-quality, holistic, person-centred & relationship-centred care. Publicity surrounding the poor delivery of care to older people can create anxiety; particularly for people who are experiencing for the first time that transition from home to care in another setting. If we take one lesson from 2015, let it be the need to keep pushing for the kind of care that we would all want at any age – care that achieves high standards of excellence; care that recognises our individuality; and care which promotes our dignity and upholds our rights.

Further information

For more information: Age NI 028 9024 5729

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