Everyone Should Tell Their Story

Joan’s Story

Joan was born in London in 1933, where she lived with her mother and father in a flat in Putney. She remembers the outbreak of World War Two being announced via a town crier who rushed through the streets. Joan’s mother accepted the dangers of living in London, but she couldn’t bear for Joan to be evacuated to an unknown place to live with strangers. So, she took matters into her own hands and made enquiries with a family friend who worked in a vicarage in Hoby, Melton Mowbray. The vicarage agreed to host Joan for the duration of the war and so she went on the train to Melton Mowbray aged only six!

Joan reminisces about her time in Melton Mowbray with fondness noting that the tiny village only had one shop, a small junior school, a church and the vicarage. There was no running water, electricity or toilet facilities there despite these amenities being common in London at this time. Water had to be gathered from the well and a cart came round to collect the sewage. But despite this Joan admits she really enjoyed life there and her 5 years away went by very quickly. She saw animals and fields for the first time and even helped the Land Army girls pick potatoes – they were glad for her help! She got involved with the church, learning lots of hymns and helped pump the organ for 50p.

After the war, Joan’s family moved to Maidenhead in time for her to start secondary school. Joan admits she didn’t always concentrate at school, but she’s always been very artistic. After leaving school aged 15, Joan worked as a sale assistant in Marks and Spencers in Maidenhead High Street and then for British Railways. However, her favourite job was as a wedding photographer, where she often photographed 2-3 weddings every Saturday. She would develop black and white prints in her bathroom for her friends. For Joan, it’s photography that has shown the biggest change during her lifetime, she can’t believe the quality of mobile phone cameras now! Or that mobile phones even exist as she only got her first one about five years ago.

Another one of Joan’s talents is her French language skills. After studying French at school, Joan continuing teaching herself using records. When she met a French lady on the train to work and struck up a conversation with her and they remain friends sixty years later. Joan’s first holiday outside the UK was in 1956 when she went to see her in Paris.

Looking back on her experiences, Joan thinks the most important lesson in life is to always listen. She was taught the importance of listening when she sent to etiquette lessons in London aged 6 and this lesson has stayed with her throughout her life.

Since retiring aged 60, Joan has remained happily living in Maidenhead. Her hobbies now include reading and listening to her favourite singer, Susan Boyle.

Waiting for the Inevitable Collapse in Homecare Provision?

This week the Chancellor released his ‘Spending Review’ and ‘Autumn Statement’, which once more failed to even start to address the crisis of care for the elderly. This left me to question what will it take before the politicians see what is obvious to the rest of us? Once more a sticking plaster will be applied to the NHS, which fails to get anywhere near resolving the burden of the elderly on hospitals. It is only a matter of time until the effect of inadequate home care provisions results in Hospitals being used as poor elderly care providers.
Last year I wrote to our local MP asking for her support in appointing a Minister for the Elderly. She replied that this was all covered by various departments and wasn’t necessary. But I believe the absence of such a cabinet minister has allowed the Chancellor to ignore the consequences of underfunding in the care sector. This is already beyond deterioration in quality of care provided and is now affecting recruitment and even the financial viability of many care providers. The proposal that allowing local authorities to increase council tax by up to 2% to meet the cost of social care simply won’t undo the damage from rates stationary for the past 8 years. Some have estimated that it won’t even cover the increased cost from the imposition of the Living Wage by the very same Chancellor!
There are over 9,000 registered homecare providers across the UK, over 75% of which are independent businesses, the vast majority of which are less than 25 employees. About 70% of homecare visits are funded by the state (usually by local council social services departments) but delivered by independent providers working under contract. Last week the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development predicted a shortfall of 200,000 care workers by 2020 and a potential gap as high 1,000,000 in the next twenty years, as the number of people aged over 80 is expected to double and demand increases significantly. We need to attract recruits. I personally don’t see the solution as lots of cheap foreign workers. This is a skilled job requiring higher communication skills.
After a thorough commercial examination, Halcyon reluctantly made the decision this year not to accept further work commissioned by local authorities. For us, there was no choice between paying our excellent workforce a decent rate for a difficult, essential job or to continue working on social services contracts. We realised that the consequences of this decision might mean a reduction in choice for people in Maidenhead, who might now need to move into residential accommodation. But we concluded that the reality of being unable to provide staff for these commitments produces exactly the same result as not accepting the commission in the first place.
Whether elderly are supported by social services or funding things themselves, our customers know we need a healthy homecare sector with good, well trained and supervised staff. So I listened with despair at the lack of imagination and application from politicians to help improve the situation.
There were no shortage of suggestions for him to consider, it wasn’t just about giving more money to local authorities.
My favourites include:
-We know that people receiving homecare are monitored for food and fluid intake and other personal care issues that reduce the number of hospital visits, so why can’t they have tax incentives to assist with the funding of their own social care?
-Why not change the VAT status of ‘welfare services’ to ‘zero-rated’ enabling care providers to reclaim VAT on the costs they incur?
-Why not “encourage” insurance providers to seriously consider the introduction of elderly care insurance products?
Really, Chancellor, how much longer can you and other politicians ignore the elephant in the room? Do we really have to wait for a collapse in homecare before you understand that it’s time to do something?

Home Carer Careers – Ann’s Story

Our home carers are very special people, who come into the elderly care profession to do more than just a job; they have a deep desire to do good for others and make a real difference to their lives. This was reflected in our earlier published story about Tracy, our Operations Manager and a senior home carer. This week is Dementia Awareness Week, and we’d like to tell you about Ann, another of our amazing carers, who has a very special role to play at Halcyon Home Care. Ann is our Dementia Champion: a Senior Carer with 11 years of experience as a care assistant, senior and operation co-ordinator, she has been developing a best practices programme to support current and future dementia customers in our area. Ann tells her own story about why she became a carer and her journey through to accepting the role of Dementia Champion. She then gives us her own take on the importance of Dementia Awareness Week.

“What motivated me to become a carer was a desire to do a job that made a real difference to people’s lives, and I wanted to do something different with my own life. I found that I really enjoyed helping others.”

A Home Carer Career

I joined Halcyon Home Care in June 2013 after some time away from care. Despite my previous experience as a Care Coordinator I was happy to be doing a job as a Care Assistant in the Community. After a couple of months, Paul, our MD at Halcyon, decided that I would be an ideal candidate to take on the role of Dementia Champion, to support the Dementia Challenge and demonstrate our dedication to both excellence and putting resources in place to support the growing number of people in Berkshire living with dementia. He was looking for someone with an interest in the way we care for people suffering with dementia and how we can make sure that we were doing our best for them. He didn’t want this person to be a manager, rather someone who was actively delivering care in the community and who was very aware of the challenges of caring for people with dementia.

My progression at Halcyon therefore has been swift. Halcyon Home Care has been developing a good reputation and the number of customers and staff across Maidenhead, Windsor and Ascot has grown significantly. At the end of last year I was appointed Senior Carer. This role is mainly about supervising and supporting our staff in the care tasks they undertake, as well as doing quality checks when I turn up unannounced to watch how the carers do their job at a customer’s home. I am also available for the carers to talk to when they have a question or a problem. Once a month I also take the responsibility for the Out-of-Hours On-Call role. When on-call I provide the immediate assurance and support to the staff out caring. This can be from reminding them how to find a new customer through to taking charge and calling the emergency services if there has been an accident.

In April this year I was promoted again to be Deputy Operations Manager. This is much more of an office job but, like Tracy, I will still be out in the community providing care, only not as much.  My new role builds on my experiences as a Senior Carer while now including the initial care assessment visits to potential new customers and the weekly allocation of carers to care visits.

I love working at Halcyon because it is committed to meeting the needs of its staff as a way of ensuring they meet the needs of our customers. I have worked at a few different home care agencies around the area and Halcyon is easily the best. We spend a lot of time getting the Care Plans for customers correct so that carers can do their jobs. It was something I always appreciated as a carer and I want to make sure that I continue to do this in the Care Plans that I am writing. Tracy and Paul have given me great support and I have been given some great opportunities in a very short time.

As a career, I think there are three top things that have made caring a good choice for me.

  • I love going into someone’s home and feeling that by my efforts I have made a difference to them.
  • I enjoy their company and once you know them as a person the little things they ask for are really not too much.
  • Knowing that the person you have been to see has been left well and happier from your visit is a great feeling.

Dementia care is special

Caring for people with dementia demands very different skills and knowledge, and that’s why my role is very important. The needs of people suffering with dementia are different from those of elderly where frailty is their main challenge.

Too many people consider dementia in terms of growing confusion and lack of control rather than what capabilities they retain. Care agencies have traditionally treated all elderly customers with similar care plans, based around tasks to be undertaken from a static care plan. We believe that dementia care needs to be something more. I have only just begun to get to grips with my dementia role, but it is to keep challenging our thinking and practices in dementia care and ultimately, if possible, to develop a clear set of standards for providing care for people with dementia.

Dementia is not very well understood and lots of people feel uncomfortable knowing this about something that could easily affect us in old age. The fact that it’s not one single illness and that it is progressive, so a person’s experience in meeting someone with dementia can be a snapshot of how far along her journey she is, also confuses the understanding among the public.

If Dementia Awareness Week helps more people to know about dementia then it will be a success. The message I would want to give is this:

“with the right kind of care, even when a person has dementia,

we can make a difference to the quality of their life.”

Only the lonely…

… really understand the devastating power of loneliness.

Loneliness has a major effect on our wellbeing. It has been linked to the development of physical as well as the more obvious mental health issues. It can also start a downward spiral in self-esteem where our ability to communicate with others diminishes with lack of practice, making it more difficult to initiate and optimise contact.

Communication is key

Towards the end of a recent presentation I did on home care jobs, which had largely centred on hours, pay, training, and the like, I was asked why I was so insistent that Halcyon home carers are  good at communicating. And why I rated the ability to hold a conversation in clear English as the key skill I look for at interview, even over previous care experience in a care home. I explained that the main reason is to be found in the role we play to help combat loneliness for those people choosing to remain at home, by bringing a bit of the everyday world into their home during our visits. Obviously, while not an exclusively elderly experience, an inability or reluctance to leave the home, loss of a long-term partner, family living away or with very busy lives, all contribute to the growth of loneliness, which some, including Tom Watson, Mirror Online’s Labour political panelist, see as an epidemic. He points out in his article “Loneliness is a modern epidemic that shames our society” that there are currently 8 million people living alone, with the majority made up of those over the age of 75, and calls for action. But – what action?

Technology can help – up to a point

There is no silver bullet for this problem, but many things might help. I personally believe that technology can bring us closer to each other. Initiatives by organisations such as Housing Solutions in Maidenhead to provide free broadband in sheltered accommodation centres have seen a significant growth in the use of iPads and other devices to connect with family and friends using Skype and Facebook, and to share photos and short videos. It also helps bury the idea that the elderly can’t utilise technology after a little help. This is a far more productive solution than, for example, promoting more volunteers, often with no or only limited training. While this is one of the more popular political solutions to elderly care (popular, because it costs nothing) it will not produce the right results and do little more than mask the problem. That said, The Campaign to End Loneliness and other bodies that understand and support the issue, such as the Royal Voluntary Service, are carrying out valuable roles in raising awareness and garnering a caring society.

Home carers play vital role

Home carers know only too well about the impact of loneliness on people’s lives. Very often we are the only real person they will see in the day and it therefore needs to be a pleasant experience as well as a functional one. It is why we allocate our resources into customer “rounds” so we get to build relationships across a number of carers, each with their own personalities and life experiences. Our Care Plans are designed to take a person’s current level of social inclusion into account. It is why we refuse 15-minute “flying visit” calls and train our carers in the difficulties of communicating, especially with people hard of hearing or with other sensory difficulties, and to arrive with a smile on their faces. By choice, we have carers that are able to leave their troubles outside work at home and could easily talk for Great Britain and probably win Gold if it was an Olympic event! Communicating in a respectful way to help keep loneliness at bay is an essential part of their job and woe betide anyone reported as being “not very happy, today” when they visit!

Action requires leadership

The growing number of people reporting loneliness is an unwanted feature of modern living and we need to do something to improve the situation. But people move around more often, change jobs more regularly, change partners more regularly, stay single, choose not to have children or have children that have to live in a more globalised world. We cannot try ‘Canute-style’ to plead for a return to village-community behaviours without imposing controls on all these contributing factors.

At the least, we need a Minister for the Elderly that can raise the plight of loneliness in society at the highest level of political thinking. If we accept loneliness as simply a factor of ageing in a modern society, shame on us all.

Dementia Friends Simply Can’t Cope


It’s nice to see a flurry of interest in Dementia across the media recently, as the PR machine publicising the new Dementia Friends campaign did it’s job.

Of course we strongly support the idea that the whole country and whole community should get involved in helping to support those with Dementia, a debilitating and distressing experience for individuals and their relatives alike.  Greater education and awareness, encouraging volunteering and community support for those with Alzheimer’s is undoubtedly vital. It’s wonderful that people like Sir Terry Pratchett are helping to spearhead change, along with a vast array of kind, well-meaning stars.

We do feel it sad, however, that it takes the glitz of media and music simply to make the subject interesting to the media, unless, that is, they are salivating over some dreadful care home shock story. We also worry that — as good an idea as Dementia Friends is — it rather glosses over the far more pressing problems that surround our country’s planning for an ageing society.  It is not only support for the 800,000-plus people living with dementia today that we should be worrying about; it is the million-plus who will be living with it by as early as 2021, with those numbers destined to rise further.

We are glad to see that some smart reporters and channels are giving it a wider consideration too, but suspect such stories will receive much less discussion and debate.  We love the article by the Telegraph’s Laura Donelly, for example, which highlights a shocking statistic that over 50,000 people in Britain must give up work in order to care for a Dementia sufferer, because there is no other choice or support.

Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Health, is vocal on this issue at present, but is failing to make the next logical connection in his arguments. We should not be looking only to communities and carers to fill the gap without also re-examining the entire fabric of how we deliver care to the elderly population.  It is simply not possible or fair to expect families, volunteers and communities to shoulder the entire burden of an increasingly aged, infirm and less able population. Dementia is becoming more and more discussed, but often as a form of ‘shorthand’ for old age, and there will be even greater numbers of those who are simply old who are not even being considered. Handling the challenges even of old age can be upsetting, as people decline in health, strength and energy.  Advanced dementia, though, is a serious and very hard-to-manage condition – viewers of the latest BBC ‘Protecting our Parents’ programme will have seen some examples of this.

Untrained volunteers, well-wishers and harassed relative carers simply cannot cope adequately with this condition, and certainly  not without a firm underlying foundation supported by the establishment. To cope with both the dementia and overall ageing challenge that faces Britainn, the systems that we have bear a serious rethink. It won’t be possible, and it isn’t right, to shuffle millions of elderly people into residential care as a default option: the ONLY logical way forward is to look at ways to enable them to live in their own homes and communities. But doing so will mean much, much more than volunteers can deliver, fresh approaches to managing limited public resources, and many, many more trained carers who must be attracted, trained, supported and with pay commensurate with this vital work.

Until the government wakes up to the need for a more holistic ageing strategy, and assigns someone to take real and active responsibility for it in the form of a minister for the Elderly, initiatives like today’s Dementia Friends launch will, sadly, remain only a patch and a PR exercise, unsupported by a real and workable social care framework. We need a strategy for dementia care AND we need an overarching strategy for the interests (and care) of the elderly. It’s time to stop assuming someone else will take care of it, and us, all.



Just STOP!

stopElderly care is all over the media – again! There’s a BBC series under way ‘Protecting our Parents.’ It’s all about shocking stuff – again!

I want to put it into perspective. The media must stop skewing the issue by focusing only on the sensationalist, negative side of the elderly care story. Well done, you are contributing to the collapse of social care. It is becoming almost impossible to recruit into care, which is exacerbating the already squeezed resources that are constrained from a financial perspective.

While awareness of issues is good, programmes like this and recent exposes unfortunately can harm more than they help. They can focus unfairly on carers in homes who are overstretched, and on the homecare businesses so thinly spread that they accept 15-minute calls even when they know it’s wrong (we refuse these however). All of them have fewer and fewer carers to call on, and little or no ability to cover no-shows, illnesses and absences – regardless, all face a scaling challenge in terms of demand. It’s not simply about zero hours contracts. It’s not just about substandard carers abusing elderly. It’s about a system that has too few resources, who are overstretched, overtired and underappreciated, too little money and no political will to change.

What will it take to find the way forward? Media to stop making it worse? Stop using stupid analogies and comparing the cost of care to the cost of hotel rooms? Social and healthcare need to stop fighting against each, and shuffling elderly people around like unwanted packages. There also some need for us as citizens to change our expectation. Everyone needs to wake up to the realities: every citizen of this country, especially those who are approaching the end of their earning years, must either adjust expectations of the quality of life and care that they might receive, or recognise that they will have to contribute more. The idea that somehow, sometime, the government will find a way to fund elderly care more is a pipe dream.

Local Authorities must stop demanding greater and greater care resource for less and less funding: they have already hit the barrier below which care can no longer be delivered. The politicians must stop avoiding the responsibility and appoint a senior minister for the elderly. They need to stop looking at this solely as an election issue and take a long-term view. By failing to do this they are helping perpetuate the fairy tale of what our future will really look like if we don’t take action now.

Longer life is an inevitability. UK Office for National Statistics tells us that the number of centenarians in the UK has risen by a staggering 73 percent over the last decade and that the number of people over 85 in the UK is predicted to double in the next 20 years and nearly treble in the next 30. Unless we do something now, it will be a longer life, but one of lower quality, less choice, less dignity and poorer health.

A Filing Cabinet and a New Chair

There are some business milestones they never teach you on a management course. I don’t recall any lecturer saying how the purchase of a filing cabinet and a new chair requires a reflection on the progress of the business.

But the new filing cabinet spoke to me today and said “Boy, do we desperately need more space for the information on the growing number of customers and staff we now have.”

So, why do we need more filing capacity? Because it appears that our past and present customers are telling others about the quality of the care we’re providing and our services.

And how are we achieving this reputation? Well, the only answer is to be found in the carers we employ and what they do. We make huge promises in our Care Plans when we commit to care for someone, but that’s all they are “promises” until we actually start to deliver. Our carers have to adjust to a different elderly person’s home environment in every call. There are general standards that we deploy but they have to adjust to a different care regime, different preferences with or without medication, with or without mental or physical capacity, in each call — and we recognise this. We have always acted upon a belief that the only way to look after our customers is through looking after our staff, by paying the best in the area, by nurturing their career ambitions and by trying to develop them as best we can. It didn’t take me too much strategic analysis to see that our staff are the reason why the business needs more filing space and is growing rapidly across Maidenhead, Windsor and Ascot!

Oh, and the new chair? Well, that was in homage to Zig Ziglar and his comment that “You don’t build a business. You build people and then people build the business.” Our success is Tracy’s. She controls the standards and the systems within which our carers operate, and she deserves a new chair … even if there was another two years left in her old one!

Paul Dunn-Sims

We’re Expanding and We’re Hiring!

400+ homecare hours a week, 25 staff — and growing

Thanks to our great reputation we’ve had a recent expansion in customer numbers. We’ve smashed through our 400 care hours a week target and that is set to rise even further in the coming months. Our growth has been phenomenal – 35% growth over last year in terms of care time and 35% growth in staff numbers. And what’s more – it’s only March!

Our massive growth surge is thanks to the quality and reputation of our carers. Our recent CQC inspection report findings support this:  “A very reliable, efficient and caring service” and “a very high standard of care based on regular and consistent staff who understood the needs of their customers.” Our own customers support it too, saying things like: “Staff are really lovely and go beyond the scope of what they need to do.”

We’re delighted – of course! But we need urgently to get more people of the same calibre on board. So we are recruiting right now. Our staff are what make us special. At Halcyon we place utmost importance on the quality of our care – our carers are with us because they really care about what they do. The most important aspect of care is Communication. We want carers who genuinely want to listen and talk to our customers, to get to understand them and their needs. We offer great training for everything else – but you can’t teach dedication.

We also offer good remuneration and we believe strongly in supporting our staff and rewarding them for outstanding work. If you think you have the right qualities to be a Halcyon carer – please give us a ring on 01628  298262



Our growth news coincides with CQC Inspection update


Good management of a domiciliary care agency takes more than just ticking boxes

The CQC inspectors have just returned our annual inspection report and we are delighted to announce that a great CQC report coincides with the news that we have just exceeded 400 care hours per week, and now employ 25 people  — a significant milestone we set out to achieve and are now surpassing.

We’d like to share some of the CQC findings with you. It just goes to show once again that boxes can be ticked, but to really come up to scratch you have to see the evidence in the comments behind the boxes. So we are happy to report that not only are we meeting all the standards, but have surpassed expectations in certain areas.

We were found to have met the standard for Respecting and Involving people, Care and Welfare of people, Safeguarding people from abuse, Supporting workers, Assessing and monitoring the quality of service provision — and we would expect nothing less. What really matters is what both our customers and their relatives, and our carers and their managers, told the CQC about us.

Here’s a summary of what they found:

From our customers:

“People were wholly complimentary about the quality of the service they received with one person describing staff as ‘really lovely’ and said staff went ‘beyond the scope of what they need to do.’

Other people described staff as ‘respectful’ and ‘very well trained.’

One person said the manager was ‘very particular about the staff they employed.’”

This is exactly one of our top priorities and it’s good to know it’s being noticed.

From our staff:

“Staff felt supported and one, who was new in the post, found the support helpful in making them feel comfortable in their role. Staff were also motivated and said they enjoyed their work.”

And here are some first-hand remarks that support our top priorities — the report highlights that we keep our promises.

Involving people in their care plan, giving them control and respect:  “We saw there was a clear schedule of support the person had planned with staff and the times this was to be delivered. The schedule was supported by detailed individualised care plans. People we spoke with said they had been involved in their care planning and were able to request changes and we saw these requests were acted upon.”

Treating people with dignity:  “Staff spoke with confidence about how they ensured people were treated with respect and dignity and gave examples of how they did this when supporting people with their personal care needs. People using the service, and relatives, said staff were always respectful and showed regard for people’s dignity and independence.”

Keeping people safe from abuse:  People who used the service told us they felt safe with the care staff allocated to provide their support. Staff told us they were up to date with their safeguarding training and we saw records of certificates, in staff files, to confirm this. The information provided, together with our observations demonstrated that people were protected against the risk of abuse.”

Regular vetting and training of staff:  “We saw that staff were regularly assessed. Managers carried out regular checks to assess staff performance and also to offer support and guidance to staff. Staff said they had enough time to carry out their duties effectively and we saw that staff always stayed at a person’s home for the allocated time to ensure they were providing the most effective care they could.”

It’s great when a homecare agency can be upfront about its operations; none should have anything to hide.



Will my carer help me with just the small jobs? I don’t want a full home care package


Some elderly people don’t want a full care service – what they really want is a bit of everything. This is sometimes difficult to articulate.

We know that the little things make all the difference, so no job is too small. It could be help with shopping, collecting pills from the pharmacy or surgery, helping them get upstairs at night, or just making a cup of tea and having a chat. Obviously, at the other end of the spectrum we have experience in dealing with customers suffering with severe illnesses, disabilities and dementia.

None of our commissions are the same. We build our care plans around what the individual wants and needs, and the home environment that they live in.