By Abi Spence, QCS Registration and Inspection specialist (www.qcs.co.uk)
For those working in the social care sector, coping with the loss of a person they have been caring for can be very difficult, particularly when they have had a longstanding and meaningful relationship. Moreover, they are often called on to support relatives in the moments, hours and days of the person’s death.
Abi Spence, a Registration and Inspection specialist for Quality Compliance Systems (QCS), offers guidance for registered managers and care workers on how to provide appropriate support and to look after their own wellbeing with the help of the new QCS Bereavement Support resource.
Many care workers had to deal with an unrelenting loss of life during the pandemic, particularly within residential services for the elderly. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), total deaths of care home residents in England increased by 16.5% between the first and second waves of the pandemic (85,305 and 99,380 deaths respectively).1
The challenges faced by those working in the care sector were unremitting. Reflecting on the harsh realities of these difficult times provides us with an opportunity to review some of the lessons learned.
A key lesson was that when dealing with the intense pressure and fast pace of the pandemic, many care workers were unable to grieve: their emotions were paused while they dealt with the onslaught.
Equipped to deal with death
It has opened up a welcome wider conversation, about how people within the sector are equipped and prepared to deal with death, and how we ensure that we’re looking after the well-being of the social care workforce.
In its May 2022 report2 on the ‘Health and wellbeing of the adult social care workforce’, the government said it ‘is committed to helping staff recover from their extraordinary role in helping the country through the pandemic’.
But it’s clear that the fact that care workers have to constantly deal with the passing of those they care for has sometimes been missed by wider society.
As human beings, we have feelings and emotions. In the care sector, we talk about person-centred care. And it this approach that is also appropriate for helping our care workers when faced with the challenges of bereavement – of colleagues, of those they support, and the families and loved ones of the deceased.
In response to this need, QCS, the leading provider of content, guidance and standards for the social care sector, has developed its Bereavement Support resource. It contains a full range of advice and guidance to support the carer’s wellbeing when someone they have cared for has passed away, and for registered managers to support their workforce too.
In addition, it offers resources for carers when offering person-centred support to the relatives and significant others of a person who has died, as well as for the bereaved person’s family and friends.
Support for care staff
Coping with the loss of the person you have been caring for can be traumatic, especially if it has been a long-term, close relationship. It’s important to understand that how a death will impact someone depends on the person, as everyone is different.
Care staff may display symptoms of grief such as sadness, confusion, anger, even shock. Or they may feel nothing at all. Whatever emotion they feel, it is ‘normal’ as grief and bereavement look different for everyone.
Registered managers can take a preventative approach by checking in with the individual and the wider workforce too. Observation is key, and just asking someone if they are OK is important.
Colleagues will often notice whether the individual is putting on a front, or if their disposition has changed, and can tell their manager. This applies both in the short term and over time. It’s all about knowing your workforce and understanding what is and isn’t normal for that person.
Registered care managers can ensure their staff are trained before they need it. End of life training is very helpful, as are regular talks within the care setting about death, whether one-on-one discussions or team meetings.
Yearly events such as Hospice UK’s Dying Matters Awareness Week are useful to provide a focal point to come together to talk about death, dying and grief. Within Bereavement Support, organisations and resources such as these are sign-posted for both registered managers supporting their teams, and for individual carers to learn what they need to do to help themselves.
Guidance on how to support family members and friends
It is always difficult to have conversations with the bereaved after a death, whether expected or unexpected. However, it is an important part of continuing to deliver person-centred care and support, especially for those who are involved in developing and supporting end-of-life care planning.
The QCS Bereavement Support resource provides care workers with easy-to-use support and guidance to ensure they deliver sensitive care to the families and loved ones of the person who has passed. Multi-media resources including leaflets, posters, checklists and podcasts guide carers on how best to support family and friends immediately after their loss.
You can listen to the podcast for free here: www.qcs.co.uk/thecarer-podcast.
Support for the bereaved
It can be challenging to know what to do when a close family member or friend passes away. Within the QCS Bereavement Support resource is a checklist that gives practical information about where to start and what can’t be delayed. It includes advice for the bereaved on practical arrangements such as how to register a death, arrange a funeral and a glossary of legal terms to navigate such as ‘next of kin’.
You can download the checklist for free here: www.qcs.co.uk/thecarer-checklist.
It also includes a range of best practice signposting materials for care homes on where to go for support for the bereaved, care workers and others through grief.
A growing bereavement resource
The QCS Bereavement Support resource has been designed to help people through their journey by de-mystifying the process and taking a person-centred approach. By creating a dedicated resource for bereavement, where everything is brought together in one place, it allows carers and registered managers to access everything they need.
It is based on people’s lived experience, to ensure it is tailored to needs and compliments existing training. But it is a growing resource, and as such, QCS is happy to get feedback from users and add to the content.