Opinion Piece: Paul Newman, Chief Executive of Greensleeves Care.

On Friday 1st April 2022, Greensleeves Care celebrates 25 years of providing high-quality and award-winning, residential, nursing and dementia care to older people across England.

Our charity’s heritage has strong roots in the public service sector, having first emerged from the Women’s Royal Voluntary Service (WRVS) in 1997. The WRVS uniform famously featured green sleeves… thus, Greensleeves Homes Trust was born.

To mark our Silver Anniversary, I spoke with some of our very first colleagues, who made the transition from the WRVS, to gain insight into the changes within the care sector since Greensleeves Homes Trust was formed.

One of the main topics of conversation surrounded regulation and accountability, of which there is a far higher requirement now than 25 years ago.

Regulatory bodies were in place at the time, in the form of three watchdogs: the Healthcare Commission, the Commission for Social Care Inspection and the Mental Health Act Commission. The merger of these three bodies to form the CQC (Care Quality Commission) in 2009 resulted in more consistent and stringent regulations which made care homes safer places to live and work, with high levels of accountability.

The workforce has evolved significantly. Colleagues across all departments of our homes were described as more highly skilled and knowledgeable now, than they were in the 1990s. “The only training that we had back then was fire safety and manual handling,” I was told, a stark contrast to the in-depth provision of training in more recent years, covering everything from infection control, to safeguarding, to food safety and much, much more.

Despite this, the care sector has a low staff retention rate, with Skills for Care estimating 34.4% turnover in 2020-21. With schemes like the Real Living Wage, something we recently implemented at Greensleeves Care, more and more people are opting for a long-term career in care. Our average annual staff turnover is consistently half the sector average at 16.2%, promoting continuity of care and workforce stability. Colleagues are engaged and enjoy working for Greensleeves Care as reflected in our recent Investors in People Gold accreditation.

Resident profile and experience are something that have changed massively within the last 25 years. The former colleagues I spoke to commented that earlier residents were often as young as in their 60s, making them generally more mobile and independent, including car owners.

The UK has an ‘ageing population.’ The Office of National Statistics predicts those aged 65 and over to make up 26% of the UK population by 2066, compared to 2016’s figure of 18%. Within this, the fastest increase will be in the 85+ age group.

A primary reason for this increase is the advancement of medicine which allows people to live longer – and more comfortably – despite illness or frailty. This changing landscape is something that will be interesting to observe as our population continues to age. One of our sector’s strengths is that it continues to care for residents holistically and as individuals, resisting the medical model of care whereby treatment of disease and illness is the primary concern; though it is important we continue to work hand in glove.

One previous colleague further discussed resident experience, saying “Dining experience used to be very limited, there was less choice, and it was canteen-style. There were lots of trolleys, which made it very institutional.

Care homes being viewed as institutional is a public attitude that has been difficult to change over the years and one which has been exacerbated by unbalanced and negative press. A focus on person-centred care has been integral to individualising the resident experience and moving away from this preconception. Today, we recognise the importance of the broader dining experience alongside appetising and nutritious food to each individual resident. The teams in our care homes are committed to making mealtimes a sociable and enjoyable part of each day.

It was mentioned that there were no activities teams in the homes back in the 1990s, which is something that today, our homes could not function without. Our dedicated activities teams are fundamental to providing excellent person-centred care, as they take the time to learn about our residents’ personal history, likes and dislikes, and tailor individual and group activities accordingly.

Increasingly, care homes are being looked at as a positive and empowering next step in many older people’s lives. People are living and working in our homes over prolonged periods; one of our residents has lived in a Greensleeves Care home for almost 20 years and a vast amount of 10 and 20-year Long Service Awards have been issued to colleagues. We even have twin colleagues approaching a combined 100 years’ service to Greensleeves Care and its predecessor, the WRVS.

Over the last decade we have expanded our care services and social impact significantly, and our progress has been recognised through multiple sector awards. As we celebrate 25 years of service, I would like to acknowledge and thank the people, past and present, who have made our organisation the success that it is today. I very much look forward to the next 25 years.