Mostly I love social media and its ability to give ‘real time’ reaction to news and events, but I have to say that I didn’t enjoy the negativity I saw this morning following the decision of the majority of the UK electorate to vote to leave the European Union.
Some of the language I have seen has reminded me of the worst of that which is associated with dementia – war-like rhetoric, stigma and a lack of respect. Whatever you believe about EU membership and however you voted, in my view this is a time for solidarity within our communities and positivity about what happens next. My only EU Referendum retweet was to share the reaction of Brendan Cox, the widower of Jo Cox MP, who tweeted this:
Today Jo wld have remained optimistic & focussed on what she cld do to bring our country back together around our best values #MoreInCommon
— Brendan Cox (@MrBrendanCox) June 24, 2016
‘Optimistic and focused’ sums up my mind-set entirely. Indeed, ever since I began campaigning on issues of health, social care, dementia and ageing I have lived by those sentiments (and others that are equally positive). Despite having some very negative experiences in my dad’s years of living with dementia, I have chosen to work constructively to make improvements rather than constantly beat a drum of criticism and negativity.
Now, more than ever, I feel that as people who care passionately about health and wellbeing we need to follow that mind-set and address the following:
Avoid turning the outcome of this vote into an ageist agenda
Dissecting a democratic vote into age group demographics is very divisive in my opinion. Whilst statistics suggest more older people voted to leave the EU than younger people, that doesn’t make either opinion more or less valid, they are simply different viewpoints. Many older people I’ve met didn’t feel that what we have is what they voted for back in 1975 and this referendum represented a chance to change the direction the UK has taken – effectively undoing a ‘wrong’ in their eyes. It is fair comment, even if you don’t agree with those individuals.
Whilst younger people may be more impacted long-term, the message has to be one of optimism and focusing on what can be created, changed and achieved, not what can’t. As a new mum (of 7 months!), that is the message I will be telling our daughter when she is old enough. There is nothing you can’t achieve, and that remains as much an inspiring message now as it was last week. The health and social care sectors need to promote this to young people who are considering their career options in this changing political world – they can be our person-centred, creative, energised leaders of the future.
Celebrate our current overseas workforce, support and value them, and welcome other talented individuals in the future
So much of the referendum campaign focused on immigration, which is a hot topic in UK health and social care given the reliance these sectors has had on recruiting talented, hardworking people from overseas. That reliance won’t change, so the message I would like to give our politicians as they shape the country in the aftermath of this referendum result is:
- Every overseas worker, no matter what country they are from, who is currently here and doing vital work in health and social care must be able to continue to do that if they want to and without any barriers.
- Recruitment drives that take place overseas to fill vacancies for health and social care professionals will still be needed, and these roles need to be considered exceptional professions so that employers can make that recruitment process as seamless as possible. The only proviso is the need to be able to speak, read and write English to a high standard, which is purely a common-sense measure to ensure seamless communication and understanding in the many challenging situations people who work in health and social care face.
It is often said that overseas workers will do the work that the British-born population won’t, and in both my dad’s time in care homes (punctuated by spells in hospital) and through the work I do now, I have seen this consistently over many years. What I would add, however, is that as many non-EU workers cared for my father as EU workers did, so it’s important to stress the diversity in the workforce that we have now as an indication of what we will need long-term.
Keep dementia care and support on the domestic (and international) agenda
With the Prime Minister resigning, there needs to be a renewed commitment from whoever takes his place to ensure that the work that has been done around dementia, notably under the auspices of ‘The Prime Minister’s Challenge on Dementia’, continues. The first dementia strategy was launched under the last Labour government (in 2009), and whatever the future holds for the current government and the different political parties, the need for the UK to deliver the best dementia care and support in the world will not change. Likewise, the need to co-operate and collaborate on dementia research must continue, not just with European countries but worldwide.
I would urge NHS and social care leaders to galvanise their lists of needs and wants, rather than gnash teeth and delve into the language of disaster. Vulnerable people who are in our hospitals, care homes, and within our communities who need our services, our care and our support don’t stop needing that now this vote has taken place.
Now is a time to set the agenda, lead, campaign, create, change and evolve… and dare I even say unite? Should integration of health and social care be realised through the outcome of this referendum result, that, for me, would be the greatest surprise of all, but who knows?
With an uncertain future only one thing is guaranteed – each one of us has the chance to shape that which isn’t yet decided.
Until next time…