A View from the Top
Barry Sweetbaum

Barry Sweetbaum is Chief Executive of SweetTree Home Care Services.

Reflections on the last decade

Anyone looking at the sector today would have to say it is in complete crisis, verging on meltdown. This is not a crisis caused by a lack of capability, because that we have in abundance, but a crisis caused by a lack of capacity, clarity and transparency.

I am a true believer that the vast majority of those working on the ground wake up each day wanting to make a positive difference however we have a system that keeps getting in the way. The lack of trust and confidence in the sector means no-one knows where to turn. Clients and care professionals feel vulnerable engaging with services they don’t trust but also can’t walk away from.

When Nicki Bones and I set up SweetTree in 2002 we didn’t know anything about domiciliary care other than it could be done better. We wanted the team to make a positive difference in the lives of clients each and every visit, this remains the goal today. SweetTree is now a leading provider of high quality domiciliary care with dedicated specialist services. We ensure each service is run by a specialist manager and supported by a dedicated team of specially trained carers. This is in sharp contrast to the generic support model most providers operate however reflects our view of what quality care is all about.

Projections for the next decade

Observing current sector events is like watching footballers play without boots or a referee – there is no traction or structure on the pitch. The opportunity exists to create an exciting, vibrant, life-changing world for all. However we seem to be failing all but the lucky few.

The solution has to be twofold, 1) creating a best practice based, high quality community care model with highly trained and motivated care teams at its heart and 2) a societal understanding that in care, like life, you get what you pay for. People can’t expect a first class, professional sector to come from nothing. Whether paid through taxes or direct contributions, sacrifices are needed, quickly. Trying to squeeze the system more is damaging it further and soon it will be beyond repair.

Moving forward we will be remaining true to our model and expanding into new markets. We are opening our second office and more will follow. However we must maintain high standards, our training focus and continue to make a positive difference each and every day.

Insight

Having spent my life working in the sector, firstly in the NHS and then in secondary and community care, I just cannot understand why it’s all so bloody difficult. Rarely do you get such a high level of commonality in the aspirations of the customer and those supporting them as in the care sector. Ensuring high quality, user-focused services benefits customers and makes commercial sense for the public purse.

Influences

Apart from the obvious influence of my family and friends, one of my greatest influences has been a carer named Margie who looked after my mother when nearing her end of life with cancer. Margie showed me what high quality, compassionate care can be and how important it is to get it right. I knew Margie only briefly 25 years ago but remember her as if she is in the room today. This highlights that our teams’ work reaches the core of who we are as a society and that everyone working in this sector should be treated with the huge respect they deserve.

Lessons

I had a boss named Kingsley Manning early in my career who taught me ‘it’s never the screw up that gets you but rather the cover-up’. If you are open, honest and transparent about how you deal with things, good and bad, people trust and respect it.

Advice

Jane Ashcroft from Anchor once said care professionals must ‘listen to the voices in their head’ and I could not agree more. Whether a carer directly supporting clients or an investor helping to make the wheels go around, you must always reflect on what impact your decisions will have and the effects that they will have on others.

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