Restoring a culture of dignity in health and social care

By Robert Stephenson-Padron

I have attended many conferences in the past, but I must honestly say, that Saturday’s Health & Social Care Conference of the Catholic Church of England & Wales was the most pertinent I have ever attended.

As the health and social care sector moves from crisis to crisis, most conferences I attend are about how providers must produce more and more paperwork to satisfy reacting regulations and how the crises will persist until chronic underfunding is remedied. This conference, focusing on what we can learn from the Good Samaritan story, was different, it focused on the heart of the matter: that the health and social care sector as a whole has lost its heart.

Revd. Dr. James Hanvey SJ characterised care in England as being reduced to checklists and Revd. Dr. Gerry Arbuckle SM argued that unless there is a cultural change in health and social care, crisis like Mid-Staffordshire will recur.

They argued that currently, respect for human dignity in the sector is too often violated by poor and bureaucratic systems that at times disassociates responsibility of decision makers, fosters bullying, and ultimately leads to material disconnects between providers’ missions to be caring and the reality on the front line.

The social care firm I lead, Penrose Care, recognised these ills of the sector when it was established, and tried something innovative. In a social care sector that the National Audit Office in March found likely pays 160,000-220,000 direct care workers less than the minimum wage, Penrose Care in 2012 became one of the first home care providers in the UK to become an Accredited Living Wage Employer. This meant the starting pay at our firm would be the voluntary hourly rate the Mayor of London estimates is the minimum a Londoner needs to be paid to live in the city decently.

The results? Penrose Care has attracted those with a genuine vocation to care, has very low staff turnover, and delivers care which garners consistent excellent client feedback. Penrose Care built a caring culture. It did this by first respecting the human dignity of those who care: our workers.

Revd. Hanvey argued that every human being’s dignity is honoured and enacted in the care of the disfigured and wounded. I agree. I would also argue that this must include our lowest paid workers – our social care workers, our health care assistants, our domestic staff. Being paid a poverty wage is disfiguring and wounding, it shows lack of respect for the dignity of those who support our mums and dads, our grandparents with their basic needs in hospitals, care homes, and the community; it shows lack of respect to the people who keep our health and social care institutions clean and sanitary.

If health and social care leaders respect the dignity of their lowest workers, I firmly believe it will indeed enact the dignity of their entire workforce, bridging the gap between our mission statements to care for the sick and support the infirm with the reality on the ground.

If we create a culture respecting the God-given dignity of each and every one of us, the necessity of compliance paperwork will reduce and the much needed, much talked about increases in funding will come as society will demand it.

Robert Stephenson-Padron is the managing director of London-based home care provider Penrose Care that supports the elderly and disabled with social care needs in their own homes.

Penrose Care home care worker assisting an elderly man

A Penrose Care home care worker assisting an elderly man in his garden

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