On Tuesday (and what turned out to be one of the hottest days of the year), Noreen and Jo Day set off for London to attend the Cross-CLAHRC Care Home Event at King’s College. Researchers from CLAHRCs (Collaborations for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care) across the land and others from organisations such as the Alzheimer’s Society gathered to discuss priorities for future research and potential collaboration.

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Clare Goodman kicked off the day with a short introduction, setting the scene with an overview of CLAHRCs (and ARCs), their priorities and relevance to care homes.  Jill Manthorpe followed with a presentation on the myths and misconceptions of social care research. We are familiar with the often negative presentation of care homes in the media as ‘places of last resort’, but care homes are part of a local community where people both live and work and care home research is about our future selves and what is happening in community and society.   Jill reminded us of the huge variation in care homes with diverse ownerships and specialisms, and different staffing patterns and routines. All of this has implications for research and Jill urged us to look beyond current media perceptions.

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Later, we heard from Arne Wolters from the Health Foundation who discussed the implications of linking health and social care datasets. The Health Foundation has just published a briefing on emergency admissions to hospitals from care homes which shows the importance of accessing a national linked database to identify permanent care home residents aged 65 years and older and their hospital use in 2016/17.  We also enjoyed listening to Karen Spilsbury describe NICHE-Leeds – Nurturing Innovation in Care Home excellence in Leeds – an innovative partnership project between Leeds Care Association and the University of Leeds for enhancing quality in care homes. The work has been informed by a successful model developed in the Netherlands and involves researchers being placed in care homes, talking to staff, relatives and residents to co-produce research questions.

Thursday saw an event of a rather different kind… organised by the SW AHSN and Devon Care Kitemark… The Art of the Irresistible was a celebration of innovation in care homes. An event inspired by TEDxExeter where 9 speakers were asked to share their stories and ideas on what makes care homes irresistible to both people and the health and care system.  An event very much in line with Jill Manthorpe’s talk at the Cross-CLAHRC event on Tuesday and which came with an instruction to speakers to #sharethetree!

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Live drawing by Grace Elizabeth

Jo was thrilled to be amongst the chosen speakers with the task of talking about how research can help to make the care homes of the future irresistible – care homes that are fun to live and work in. And so began an emotional rollercoaster of an afternoon of hugely inspiring speakers on topics as varied as student life, pirates, nursing, 4-year olds, time and Sunderland.  The event was live drawn by Grace Elizabeth who has also produced a printable zine.  All the talks are available on the SW AHSN YouTube channel.

The ever inspiring, energetic George Coxon kicked off the afternoon with ‘It’s about time’. The average life expectancy of someone entering a care home is 1138800 minutes – how do we make those minutes count? George explained that this means taking time to look forward, look back and remember, give and receive affection and live a meaningful life.  He also highlighted the importance of fun-guarding as well as safe guarding, and talked of ‘sharing our treasure’ be that good examples, ideas, expertise or resources.

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Dr Keniesha Miller (medical registrar at University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust specialising in geriatric medicine, stroke medicine and general internal medicine) was up next, asking us to reflect on the saying ‘Once an adult, twice a child’ and to wonder ‘what if care homes were like universities?’.  What if, as we grew older we were desperate to get away from our families and go away to live in care homes where we could be part of all the fun and frivolity, learning and play that we experience at university?

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Cat Duncan Rees  (Coproduction Advisor with Think Local Act Personal and the National Coproduction Advisory Group) introduced us to the Be More Pirate movement.  Cat lit up the room with her description of how the golden age pirates didn’t just break the rules they rewrote them and how we can learn from them to rebel, rewrite, reorganise, redistribute and retell.  Breaking rules rather than writing strategies. This was a talk full of inspiration to find out more… read the book or have a listen to the author … Cat also used this fabulous iceberg image to illustrate the difference between co-production and co-creation – very much relevant to how the research community must work together with social care providers.

Next followed some wonderful films from Ian Donaghy – author, speaker, film maker and educator.  Laugher, sadness and nostalgia especially for those in the audience who originate from the North East.

Margot Whittaker (Director of Nursing at Southern Healthcare) finished up the first half with some insightful reflections on nursing in nursing homes and the need to improve the way that we train and support people in these roles.

After the break, Geoffrey Cox (Managing Director at Southern Healthcare) continued with his vision for care homes… illustrated with some lovely stories from his experience working in care homes for many years.

Into the home straight now… and one of the most thought-provoking talks of the day.  If you only have time to watch one of the talks on YouTube then let it be this one.  Truly inspirational, Emma Wilkinson, (Matron on Kngfisher ward, a rehabilitation ward at Mount Gould Local Care Centre run by Livewell Southwest) told the story of how she watched A Care Home for 4-Year Olds and decided that this is what she wanted to do in her community hospital.  And then she ‘wrapped up the red tape and made it happen’. Many of the audience found they had ‘something in their eye’ as she talked about how the children visited the ward daily for a month, learned (e.g. teddy bear CPR) and brought joy and recuperation to the patients. You can find more on the twitter feed from the ward.

Claire Sutton (Digital Transformation Lead at the National Care Forum), who had travelled down from Southport, was up next… with a very exciting (if slightly nerdy) approach to improving social care through using SNOMED to code the information that is collected within care homes everyday.  Such huge potential. And as her hashtag #datasaveslives made clear an approach that could save lives!

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And finally, it was Jo‘s turn… she spoke about how by doing, using and sharing research and working closely with the care home community we can begin to build a stronger evidence base for the complex care which is delivered in care homes.  By building genuine relationships, taking time to understand the environment, making research relevant to the people who live and work in care homes and holding respect for staff and residents at the centre of all research endeavours we can help to make care homes the fun places that we all want to live and work in.

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It was an amazing afternoon of thought provoking talks, huge thanks to the energy of George Coxon and the organisation of Kim Morrisey at the SW AHSN.

And finally, last week we had the amazing news that we have obtained funding to explore creative communication of research in care homes.  We’ll be using evidence from some recently completed projects on animals and robopets in care homes to create a board game for staff and sharing our plain language description of the findings in The Woofington Post.  Watch this space!

Photos by Aron Van de Pol and Cristian Newman on Unsplash

Sketchnotes by Grace Elizabeth