Reflections on the last decade
I haven’t worked in social care for the whole of the last decade, having come from mental health and before that criminal justice, yes I was a prison governor. During my time at Swanton, Care UK and Priory, I’ve seen increasing cost pressures; devaluation of the sector amongst some sections of the media and politicians, evidenced by downward fee rate pressure; and a drive to create bespoke services. Devaluing the sector makes recruiting incredibly difficult. Cuts mean staff are paid far less than they should be. The media is constantly critical – it isn’t conducive to attracting the best people.
My own career has been through a significant transition too. Ten years ago I was a managing director in the criminal justice sector. This, together with years of operational responsibility for prisons and immigration removal centres, gave real insight into how those with mental illnesses are treated within the prison system. It led me to want to join an organisation where I could make a real, positive difference. I worked for two mental health providers and learned so much about the sector and its financing. The funding relationship is vastly different to the prison sector; for one thing, I never had to worry about occupancy!
Projections for the next decade
With regards to the future, integration is key – it’s non-negotiable, there’s no alternative. The Manchester devolution of healthcare spending is exciting and I hope demonstrates the benefits of integration.
Swanton has an exciting future having separated from Barchester Healthcare. Barchester focused on elderly care so, understandably, Swanton didn’t get the focus it needed or achieve its potential. Now fully independent, we can focus more on supporting people with severe learning disabilities, autism, mental and physical disabilities, and very complex behaviours. The sector has previously assumed it is providing homes for life and that people with this level of complexity aren’t capable of progressing to greater independence. Our role is to support people to form dreams and aspirations, to be as independent as possible. This has to be the future.
We want to provide consistently high quality care. Not all services are where they need to be but we are working tirelessly to address this. I am confident that we can achieve our vision. We are focused on increasing independence and helping individuals and their families to recognise and achieve their potential. Not just meeting immediate needs, but planning and supporting people to develop the right level of independence for them. We’re remodelling our training to ensure people have the skills and competence to do this, it is an exciting journey.
One of my earliest influences was the late Googie Withers, who played a strong but kind-hearted prison governor in Within These Walls. The mixture of compassion and professionalism in a challenging role stuck with me and was a genuine inspiration in my early career choice.
You need to know your services and the people within them. Every week I visit sites and speak to service users, family and staff. It’s vital that I’m approachable and available so I can find out about and respond to challenges and learn about innovative ideas that can be rolled out. It’s about ensuring everyone feels valued for their contribution to supporting people to progress. This must include service users and families.
One of the most important pieces of advice I have received is that as you move up the hierarchy you need to ‘do less’ and ‘think more’; this isn’t easy as I’m an operator at heart. A much greater focus on the business’ strategic direction is needed, rather than getting caught up in operational detail. You need a good team to allow you this freedom. I’ve been fortunate enough to build a very experienced new senior management team who share my passion and are up to the challenge to make our vision a reality.
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