My sister and I have just spent almost four days at East Riding Care Home, with my aunt, Joy Pratt, in the last days of her life.
Joy has been at East Riding for six years, and I now know was one of the residents who had been there the longest.
East Riding has been through many stages in those years, including at one point some years ago, a zero rating, which shocked me so much that I considered moving her to another home. What made my sister and I decide to keep her there was the very positive and warm relationships she had with staff, which I witnessed when I visited, and we decided it would not be in her best interests to move.
In the following years I was reassured as the home began to improve and, under the present manager Anne Mielnik, it became in my opinion as good as it could be given the resources available to her.
My aunt has had excellent, individualised care. She has been able to go out on personal visits accompanied by staff she knows and trusts, to do the things she really enjoys. Just over a week before she died she had been to Whitehouse Farm with her keyworker, and on her 90th birthday in December her keyworker and the activities co-ordinator organised a stunning party for her, with an Al Jonson look alike and Smurf the tiny pony, who visits the residents regularly.
I knew that my aunt, who although a very affectionate and loving person, had a very strong personality and wasn’t always the easiest or most co-operative resident, loved the staff working most closely with her, but until her last sudden illness and death I had no idea just how deeply the staff cared for her.
In the three days she was confined to her bed and was clearly in the very last stages of life, she had excellent palliative care. She also had a constant stream of staff coming to spend time with her, and with my sister and I, to say goodbye to her.
It was clear how much she was actually loved by those paid to care for her, far beyond what would be expected professionally. This made her dying and death as good as it possibly could be for Aunty Joy, and a very positive experience for me, in spite of the sadness.
However, I was also intensely conscious that the majority of the carers are paid either the minimum wage, or just above it, yet they are asked to carry out some of the most significant roles in a person’s life.
While I was there, my aunt’s copy of the Daily Express arrived, trumpeting a possible £7 billion in lower taxes in the future. This is ‘Austerity Britain’. We are told there is no choice, but in fact there is .
We clearly do have the money available to pay decent wages to those caring for our elderly relatives, and have a moral duty to do so.