In a Nursing Times survey in 2014, almost 60% of staff consulted, indicated that they thought uniforms were an important part of the job. It is a topic that generates strong opinions. JERRY SHORT, content writer for the Evolve Care Group explains why the company has chosen the ‘civvies’ option.
The Evolve Care Group operates six care and nursing homes across the South West of the UK. Four years ago, Evolve started discussing the pros and cons of staff wearing uniforms. After careful consideration, they decided to go with the ‘civvies’ option because it was in line with their ‘household’ model of care and would help to minimise any feeling of institutionalisation.
Accordingly, Evolve told the care teams across the company that they no longer needed to wear a uniform. By and large, the teams were delighted, but a few care workers argued against it. One said she thought uniforms were important because they were respected, and it simplified identifying senior carers. At the time, health care assistant Rose Pearce, from the group’s Gibraltar nursing home in Monmouth, said visitors needed to quickly identify who they could talk to about important care issues and argued to keep the wearing of uniforms.
Talking with her recently, however, she has changed her mind, completely. “It’s not often that I admit that I was wrong, but I was,” said Rose, observing that within the first few weeks of giving up uniforms, she began to notice that the people she cared for, who are referred to as family members by the care teams, began commenting on the clothes she and the other team members wore to work. “Nobody had ever commented on the uniforms, before,” she said. “But since but the change, we were regularly hearing comments such as “I love that top” and “That colour really suits you, dear.” She also noted that the care staff and family members seemed more relaxed and began to realise how divisive uniforms had been, drawing a line between the carers and the cared for.
Being able to choose what to wear for work also meant that staff were able to choose clothes to wear that would be more likely to generate a positive reaction, such as wearing a particular football top when working with a family member who supported that team, or wearing a T-shirt with a picture of a horse, and asking if anyone had ever been horse riding.
Communication levels between carer and cared for increased, as did the level of wellbeing.
Although uniforms made it easier to recognise care staff, this was primarily benefiting visitors to the homes. For the homes’ family members, especially if they were living with dementia, seeing a uniform was not something they were used to seeing in their own homes and could increase levels of anxiety. It also seemed that some people had an antipathy towards uniforms. This may have its roots in associating them with war or the emergency services or even school bullies. Also, from the care teams’ point of view, uniforms could be uncomfortable and poorly designed, or cheaply made. Nocturnally, the care teams were encouraged to wear night attire, such as dressing gowns and pyjamas, so that if a family member rose in the night and saw a carer in a nightie or pyjamas, this seemed normal, but had the carer been wearing a uniform, this could have become problematic.
It is important to stress that the removal of uniforms across the group did not in itself change the culture of care, but it did represent an important step of moving from an institutionalised care system to a more person-centred care environment. Evolve Care Group has found that the no uniform policy has helped those that live with them feel safe, happy and relaxed and more like they would in their own homes. The care teams are there to provide them with support and not to control them. The removal of uniforms has helped them achieve this .
The 8thMarch is International Women’s Day and is a focal point in the movement for women's rights. I wanted to speak with someone who had lived through many decades of discrimination and learn what they thought about this, so I started researching Nursing Homes in the South West, to find somebody who was both the right age, and had a powerful story to tell.
I found that person in Frome Nursing Home. One of their "family members" is 84-year old, Wendy Mills. Frome refer to all their residents as family members, and after I explained the reason for my visit, Wendy was keen to talk with me.
As a child she had watched the Battle of Britain in the skies over her childhood home in the Home Counties and grew up determined to become a pilot. As soon as she was old enough, she applied to join the RAF but when she asked about flying, she was told point blank, that they didn’t accept female pilots. She was angered and disappointed but didn’t let her frustration show. She went on to train as a fighter plotter, who are those women you see in war movies, pushing model aircraft around a map, with sticks. This was during the Cold War years when there were regular incursions into British airspace by Russian bombers, usually coming in over Scarpa Flow. Wendy and her team would scramble fighters up to intercept them. Her shifts could last 36 hrs, meaning she slept and ate underground, in a top security bunker in Norfolk. The job was onerous because the aircraft were sometimes carrying nuclear payloads. Before her shifts, she told me she would walk in the fields around the bunker, filling her nostrils with the scent of vegetation, because if a nuclear war did ensue, it may have been her last chance to experience that.
She did well in her post and was soon promoted to Flight Sergeant, but she never lost her yearning to fly. One day, she noticed a magazine advert for women to join the RAF as air-crew. Eagerly she took the magazine across the airfield to where the flight crews were based and knocked on the commanding officer’s door. She waited nervously before being invited in. She presented the magazine and explained that she was requesting flight training and had thought of little else since she was a child. The C/O smiled and carefully read the piece before leaning back in his chair and telling her that she’d need to pass a medical and get permission to fly, from her own commanding officer.
A few days later she presented him with both. The C/O, smiled, stood up and told her to follow him. They walked into a large room, where the aircrews sat around smoking and drinking coffee before sorties. The C/O introduced Wendy as their first female air crew member. The place erupted with cheers and whistles. Wendy’s eyes twinkled as she tells me this, the memory still fresh in her mind.
Although women could be air-crew members in 1958, they were not allowed to be operational pilots for another 34 years. It wasn’t until 1992, long after Wendy had left the RAF, that the Government finally announced that women would be allowed to fly jet aircraft. But what had happened to Wendy?
After the RAF, she got married and went on to work as a successful aviation journalist for the Yorkshire Evening post and spent her first month’s wages on flying lessons.
It turned out that she was a natural, and quickly passed her pilot’s licence and then became a flying instructor and then a Flight Examiner and taught Flying Instructors how to teach. She continued to write aviation stories, including one memorable piece when she flew faster than the speed of sound as a co-pilot on in a 2-seater supersonic, Phantom jet fighter.
Impressed by her remarkable story I asked Wendy if she thought the UK needed a Women’s Equality Day. She sighed before turning to me.
“Of course we do, dear. Things have improved, but I think Westminster still needs shaking up a bit, don’t you?”
I do, Wendy, I do.
Suffragist, Millicent Fawcett, once said, “Justice and freedom for women are things worth securing, not only for their own sakes but for civilisation itself.”
Jerry Short, care writer
Should vegetarian care home residents with dementia be offered meat
dishes? asks JERRY SHORT, content writer for the Evolve Care Group
There are thought to be as many as 6,500 vegetarians living in care in
the UK and statistically, around 70% of those will have dementia. As
their mental capacity weakens and the dementia advances, it reaches a
point where some forget that they are vegetarian, and start choosing
to eat meat at mealtimes. This is a moral dilemma from the carer’s
point of view – do you consider their previous dietary history or their
current personal choices?
To research this further, I asked a question on Facebook: Given that
free choice is usually prioritised in care and nursing homes, what
would you do if someone, who is in your care, who is living with
dementia, who you are told has been vegetarian for more than 50
years, suddenly asks to eat meat?
It stimulated a lot of discussion, with some saying a person’s life
history must be respected so they should only be given vegetarian
options to choose from, whilst others said the path of least resistance
should be chosen and allow them their choice to eat meat. The debate
ran on for around a fortnight and finally concluded with 38% saying
they would allow that person to eat meat, and 62% advising that the
person should be able to live the rest of the life as they had before: as a
vegetarian. Even allowing for the fact that most of the 62% were likely
to be vegetarian themselves, it is certainly an interesting conundrum.
The British charity, Vegetarian for Life (VfL) is a leading authority
on diet and healthy living, and since there are currently only two fully
vegetarian care homes in the UK, one of VfL’s major goals is to
improve the standard of vegan and vegetarian catering in existing
British care homes.
For the Bristol based, Evolve Care Group, which runs 12 care homes
spread across the South West of the country, the health of those in their
care, and how that could be affected by diet, is of particular interest.
Ben Kerslake, head chef at their Frome Nursing Home, says that
often the vegetarian options he makes prove to be more popular than
the meat dishes. He says his diners may be swayed by the brighter
colours of vegetables, compared to the more sombre colours of meat
dishes. Evolve joined VfL and is working with them to ensure the
diets of those they care for will be chosen not just for taste, but for the
vegetables’ health-giving properties, too.
To conclude, in case you were wondering how I would have chosen
to answer that Facebook question, having freedom to choose
throughout our lives is a primary part of our well-being. I think that
being denied that, can never be a good thing. I am an omnivore who is
moving increasingly towards a plant-based diet, and I have to say,
moving a bit more speedily since conducting the research for this