Today, thousands of care homes across the country will open their doors to welcome the public, connect residents with their local communities, and challenge the negative perceptions of care homes. I am under no illusions, this is a challenge, but as an MP I have been privileged to visit many fantastic care homes, they can be places of light and laughter, a home from home.
It's true that we have all read too many shocking stories of abuse and neglect in care homes, or simply callous and frequent disregard of individuals, their wishes and preferences. While it is critical that these cases are dealt with- and I worked long and hard with colleagues across the political spectrum to ensure that those responsible are held fully accountable, we must not allow these rare cases to colour our view of all residential care. There are some fantastic examples of great care homes across the UK and tens of thousands of exceptional carers and nursing staff who deserve to be celebrated, and much innovation in the sector has led me to work with think-tank Demos to establish a commission looking at the future of residential care.
I recently had the pleasure of officially launching an inspirational movement called FaNs (Friends and Neighbours), which aims to reconnect people who live in care homes with their local community. Care homes thrive when they are part of the community. The secret of great care is the quality of relationships people have, FaNs helps to ensure that people living in care homes feel connected to their neighbourhood and able to take part and feel part of everyday life.
As chair of the Demos Future of Residential Care Commission, I have visited Boston & Copenhagen to see what lessons could be learnt from their models of retirement villages and senior communities.
In Boston, I visited a college which had built a retirement village on its campus with residents required to take part in a minimum of 150 hours of education a year. Residents were even invited to take classes with the main student body, and as I sat in the café in the village, I overheard residents engaging in lively discussions about the latest things that came up in class rather than health problems.
Lotte is described as 'Denmark's most famous nursing home', Lotte has 23 residents 70% of whom have dementia - living together as a family, sharing meals, holidays and celebrations. The home has a positive approach to risk-management, where precautions are put in place so that residents can safely continue their previous lifestyle, rather than give up activities like going for a walk. The goal is to keep people active and involved in the world around them.
As well as bringing communities together, the models I saw in Boston & Copenhagen worked to nurture a genuine sense of home for residents. Anecdotally, most people see nursing care in a negative light. However, those who have direct experience of it are much more positive. I hope that people take part in Care Homes Open Day, too often perception takes over reality, and the reality is that care homes are a positive part of our communities with so much to offer.