Ridiculous ‘care beds to TB beds’ statement from NHS England CEO

Blog posted

24th July 2014

I am astounded at the comments made by the new chief executive of NHS England Simon Stevens.

For someone holding such a position of authority, I find it alarming he can make such sweeping and ridiculous statements about such a complex and highly sensitive and emotive issue.

I wonder what credentials got him this job in the first place if all he can do now is come out with media sound bites that liken ‘care beds to TB beds’, describe care homes as a ‘particular feature’ of the 20th century and promote the fact he will be disappointed if nursing homes still exist in ‘30, 40 or 50 years’.

Get real Mr Stevens. I’m 100% certain there are other motivations, probably political, for making such sensational statements in the first place, but they serve no purpose other than to grab meaningless headlines and knock the people you are actually here to represent and serve – that includes both the general public and the care profession.

Nobody would deny that as health (both physically or mentally) declines in older age, support from family and possibly a wider network of care may be required and what better place for this to happen than in the person’s own home.

This is the ideal scenario, round the clock support from a spouse or live-in relative or regular visits from friends and/or paid support from a retirement domiciliary care agency.

This already happens in millions of homes up and down the UK. But alongside this are a million-plus more people living within a care home environment.

This is where realism has to set in – for the majority of care home residents and their relatives, this is a decision they chose to make because it is the best or only option for them.

Physical or mental illness, general frailty, and decline, happens in many guises. No matter how wonderfully supportive relatives and friends are, they cannot provide the level of care required at home for a loved one. Domiciliary care teams and more qualified nursing teams can provide extended care but what happens when they leave to visit their next resident? And who can afford a round-the-clock carer?

Care homes, whether they are specialist dementia units, respite, 24-hr nursing facilities, or residential homes, all have a vital role to play in looking after our ageing population.

Not only do they provide continuous care, they provide an equally important function which I think Mr Stevens must have forgotten about in his rush to hit the tabloids – they provide an hollistic antidote to what I believe is an even larger ‘feature’ of the 20th century – loneliness.

Earlier this year, scientists carried out a study of 2000 people aged 50 and over and found that those who reported being lonely had a 14% greater risk of dying. This figure means that loneliness has around twice the impact on an early death as obesity.

It’s not good to hear but you can’t argue with the facts and to be perfectly honest, I would prefer to digest facts before listening to any more of Mr Steven’s unhelpful rhetoric.

I’ve worked within the care industry all of my professional life. In my role as care and operations director at Retirement Villages it has probably been brought home to me more than anywhere that you can’t put a value on the social aspect of life in a care home.

You won’t find examples of people not talking to another human being for days on end or counting the TV as their only companion, as has been reported by the ‘Campaign to End Loneliness’ recently.

Instead, these are vibrant and happening environments where social interaction stimulates conversation and activity; people are encouraged to talk, join in, take part and generally get the most out of each day. Over and above this, they have an element of routine and a sense of purpose, all aspects of living at home alone that can potentially be lost and add to possible decline.

Don’t get me wrong, home is the place to be but when the day comes that this is no longer a viable option, there are some wonderful care homes and care staff just waiting to open their arms to welcome the next person.

Perhaps we will invite Mr Stevens to come and visit one of our own retirement care homes and see if we can educate him further. First lesson of the day will be a big dose of realism.

Paul Walsh 
Care and Operations Director