Go Shared Lives!

This is a guest blog from Michelle McDaid, a policy manager at the Department of Health, who has often worked behind the scenes to develop policies which help make the Shared Lives model a possibility for more people. Michelle’s blog has also appeared on the Dept Health website:

On a Friday in April I had the privilege to visit a Shared Lives family in Bexley. Through Shared Lives Plus I was put in touch with Bexley Council and the brilliant Catherine Nairn who is the Manager of the Bexley Shared Lives Scheme.

Going out to visit Shared Lives is something I have wanted to do and experience for a very long time. But like lots of things, I kept putting it off. Pressure of work and all that!!  I work in social care policy at the Department of Health. One of the areas we look at is improvement in the quality of care, for both those using it and for the staff who work in it. Over the years I have worked very closely with Alex and Mark at Shared Lives Plus, on Shared Lives issues. But I have to confess that I never took the time to go out and meet a family.

The Department runs something called Connecting. It’s a ‘back-to-the-floor’ scheme to help staff connect to the experiences of patients and people using services. As a ‘policy maker’ it is vital for me to see in action the people who provide and use the adult social care system. I couldn’t do my job without doing so – which is why I jumped at the chance to go out to Bexley.

I visited the council offices first where I met Catherine. I also met Caroline Maclean Head of Service, Complex Care and the Council’s director of adult social care Tom Brown and Mandy Grandini who works alongside Catherine.

We had a long and extremely interesting chat about Shared Lives. I learnt all about the Scheme in Bexley – all about the vetting process – how the Scheme is set up and what the aims of the Council are in this area. It was incredibly uplifting to hear of the resource and support being put in to such an innovative and amazing scheme. I saw the most brilliant short film about a Shared Lives family. I have to say if anybody saw this, then personally I think they would be in no doubt of how this scheme can bring so much support and help to the person being cared for.

After our meeting, Catherine and I set off to meet the Shared Lives family. I have to say I felt slightly concerned about imposing myself on this family but I needn’t have worried. I was met at the door by the Shared Lives carers (who knew I was coming by the way). They were so lovely and friendly and welcomed me into their beautiful home. The couple look after three people with learning disabilities or other support needs. The two people I met were in their mid-fifties or early sixties. One had been living there nearly a year and the other person had been with the family for 16 years.

I met the first person who was a little bit shy at first, but after a short while came down from his room and joined in our conversation. A short while later I met the second person, who had been out volunteering which he does a few times a week. He began telling me all about his volunteer work. He told me what he did and how much he loved doing it. We then began to talk about a sponsored walk he was going to take part in the next day and how he loved attending his local church. We chatted for nearly two hours. I learned that the carers had been part of the Scheme for years and in fact their children (who have since flown the nest) had grown up with one of the people I met.

I probably could have stayed there much longer, but didn’t want to outstay my welcome. I honestly felt uplifted on my way home. It was clear to me that everyone I met that day really were happy. Both the two people I met, who were being looked after and the Shared Lives carers who, it was plain to see where providing great care. I know that Bexley, through Catherine and the team are in touch with the carers and the people they look after on a regular basis. That was very clear as Catherine genuinely knew the family. There was a real warmth there. As well as being regulated by CQC the scheme is safe and wholly rewarding. I knew Shared Lives does great work and after seeing it for myself in practice I’ll certainly wear the tee shirt. Go Shared Lives!

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