1 December 2023
The COVID-19 pandemic completely changed life as we knew it. From the way we worked to the way we socialised, the pandemic stole our normality and forced us to adjust to a new way of living, a new way of being. We were isolated from friends and loved ones and told to work from home – even the time we spent outside was strictly limited in order to slow the spread of the virus. The pandemic affected us all.
It could be argued that those hit the hardest by the pandemic were the residents and workers based in care homes around the UK. Second to hospitals, the UK’s care homes housed some of the country’s most vulnerable people and death rates increased sharply due to COVID-19.
What’s more, staff absences and isolation periods due to the virus meant a lack of staff available, high turnover rates, funding issues, and lack of experienced workers available to provide quality care. These challenging conditions were felt keenly by all, from workers to residents to residents’ loved ones who were unable to visit due to government guidelines.
The coronavirus pandemic has been one of the biggest challenges care homes have ever faced. As such, it is essential that the lessons learned during this difficult time are remembered and applied for the future. The pandemic has been a catalyst for change and, as we recover, care homes have introduced new and lasting changes to protect their residents for the future. Let’s take a look at how the pandemic has been a catalyst for change.
Despite having emerged from the pandemic, we are still living with the virus in our midst and despite vaccinations and boosters, the effects of the virus still pose a big risk to those who are most vulnerable. As a result, many care homes around the UK continue to ask staff, residents, and visitors to undertake regular testing.
According to the COVID-19 government guidelines for care homes in the UK, “while vaccination offers vital protection from severe disease, no vaccine is 100% effective, and does not prevent transmission to others from those who are infected. To identify positive cases and continue to monitor the effects and transmission of COVID-19, we must continue to operate a comprehensive, adhered to, testing programme, even in settings where vaccines have been administered.”
Through regular testing, care homes are able to reduce the risk of infections and avoid future virus outbreaks.
The height of the pandemic wrought havoc on the care system. Care workers were required to work longer hours than ever before, on very little pay, and with very little support. And they were required to do all this while still delivering the highest standard of care to care home residents. As a result, the mental health and wellbeing of care home workers have been drastically affected. In fact, the research suggests that the pressures workers experienced during the pandemic have led to increased levels of stress, burnout, and exhaustion.
The pandemic has raised many concerns over demands placed on care home staff and protective measures are being put in place to support care home workers. Some of the strategies being employed to protect and support care home workers include:
The pandemic forced us all to adjust to new ways of living and working, practically overnight. Due to enforced social distancing and many other government guidelines, there was a sharp rise in the adoption of technologies. According to The Health Foundation, “COVID-19 has turbo-charged the use of technology across the NHS.”
From Skype, Zoom and FaceTime usage to the provision and use of digital health services, technology allowed us to stay in touch with loved ones, receive much-needed health care and advice, and somewhat combat the numerous struggles of living life in isolation.
Technology in the care home sector during the pandemic allowed for increased independence, better support, and increased community involvement in a time when face-to-face interactions were severely limited. As care homes look to the future, many are keen to make lasting policy and practice adjustments that will help secure the continued use of digital health innovations in daily patient care.
The pandemic really highlighted the humanitarian question; what does it look like to care for older people well? With so many older people isolated from their friends, families, and communities for well over a year, problems such as dementia, movement limitations, Parkinson’s, and chronic health conditions worsened significantly.
Sadly, according to research carried out by Age UK, “1 in 4 older people’s ability to do everyday activities has worsened during the pandemic […] analysis finds that the experience of living through the fear, enforced isolation and inactivity caused by the pandemic has sharply accelerated the care needs of significant numbers of older people.”
As we emerge from the worst of the pandemic, many care homes are asking how the needs and wants of older people can be prioritised for the future. Plans must be put in place that helps address the needs and wants of older people and provides them with:
In order for care homes around the UK to offer compassionate and quality care to their residents, the residents must be the priority. The needs and wants of those in care (as well as those providing the care) should always be prioritised. When the health and wellbeing of the individual is the priority, the result is always more positive.
If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s that we as human beings have a fundamental need for community. We need the support, love, and guidance of other people in order to thrive in our own lives. So, as we look to the future of care, it is important we consider the points highlighted above and remember how the challenges we all experienced during the height of the pandemic can be used as a catalyst for positive change.
My names is Jessica and I am a writer on the UK Care Guide website.
My specialist is researching and then writing about a broad range of topics. I studied English Language and Literature at Manchester University, and a use my skills to produce articles, such as the one you are reading.
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