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Uniform by design

August 4, 2017

Thing 1: Blogging

Why post this blog now?

I wrote this blog in December 2016 but never posted it.  This week the Scottish Social Services Council launched their 23 digital ‘things’ (innovations) to support and engage the 21st Century social care workforce (#SSSC23digital).  ‘Thing 1’ is about blogging this prompted me to post the blog, role modelling is important if I expect others to join in.

Erskine is Scotland’s foremost provider of care for veterans and their spouses, Erskine provides high quality, person and relationship centred nursing, residential, respite and dementia care within four homes across Scotland.

Last year we provided all our care staff with new uniforms.

The uniform follows a block colour design, not dissimilar to NHS Scotland’s approach.

In the press release issued to media about the uniforms I said: “The new uniforms have been rolled out to all care staff this month and they are already making a difference for our veterans. As most of our residents are elderly, with many living with dementia or a visual impairment, strong bold colours are important and can help them identify who is who within the care staff and when they need assistance.

This can make a huge difference when building personal relationships with individual staff.”

At the same time we issued new badges with staff names written in larger, bold lettering – staff wearing uniform only have their name on the badge, other staff also have their designation printed on the badge.

Erskine residents have noticed the changes and have commented on the new uniforms.  Bill, a resident of Erskine Edinburgh said: “I really like the new uniforms. They are bright and very smart but don’t ask me to wear one!” Frank, also a veteran in Erskine Edinburgh said: “I like the new badges as I can clearly see the staff names.”

Debate

When sharing this story with Geoff (Editor of Caring Times) he posed the question: “Did the veterans we care for express a preference for uniformed care staff?”

A reasonable question, but not actually one I, or my colleagues, had considered.

Earlier this year we had visitors from Maastricht, the Netherlands – they were all senior managers/staff from a number of care homes in the Maastricht area.  One of the visitors asked a similar question as the home he manages had moved to staff wearing their own clothes.

So why a uniform and not, as some others have done, allow staff to wear their own clothes? Debate anyone?

Ethos

Erskine’s underpinning ethos is to make our Homes as homely as we can for our residents. We take a human rights approach to choice and enablement, we aim to make our residents pre-eminent in everything we do.  Every resident has their own en-suite room, they wear what they want when they want, they have a choice of food and choice of when to eat (albeit I acknowledge this is within broad time parameters – this links to my point re homeliness).  Our residents fill their rooms with their own mementos; photographs and personal treasures.

The point being we do our best to ensure we create a homely environment, promoting choice and independence.

So why do we need staff to wear a uniform and create the differentiation between them and our residents?  Wouldn’t it be more ‘homely’ if staff wore their normal clothes?

Before answering let me ask a question – how many readers have ‘random’ strangers wandering around their homes?  Earlier this week my wife and I arrived home late (9pm) and proceeded to cook ourselves a meal – not a snack, not a sandwich, but a proper meal – we could do this because it was our home, our own house! More about this later.

Identification and clarity

I’d also like to share one of the underlying reasons we did change the uniforms at Erskine. I started in my post six months ago, for the first month I couldn’t tell which staff were which, from their uniforms (the old uniforms were various stripes and collar colours which soon washed out to an indistinguishable sameness). I frequently heard of residents (and relatives) asking for assistance to go to the toilet “sorry, I’m a housekeeper, I’ll get a member of care staff for you” was not an unusual response.

And so in my first month or two I felt we had confused residents, confused relatives and a confused Director of Care (only the latter of which is vaguely acceptable!).

And so to the question – why wear uniforms at all?  Uniforms aid clarity and they are practical –in terms of style, durability and suitability.  We are not left to the individual sartorial choice of staff to consider what they think is acceptable or not, nor are we faced with staff complaints that their own personal clothes are being damaged/ripped at work.

When considering infection prevention and control, they protect both our residents and our staff (and their families) – this is another reason that our uniforms have a zip rather than being removed over the head.

Wearing a uniform is straightforward, it’s a recognition that staff are here as care givers, it’s not about pretending that our Homes are the individual home of our residents.  Our staff care deeply about our residents, they go above and beyond their job roles – but at the end of the day they are here doing a job, no matter how much they love it.  Staff wearing a uniform does not get in the way of providing great care, it doesn’t create barriers between residents and staff – it portrays clarity of purpose and easy identification of those here to help.

We did, at one point before I started at Erskine, trial staff wearing dressing gowns at night in one of our Houses caring for people living with dementia.  There were some positive outcomes in terms of encouraging some residents around sleep patterns – for others there was the distressing question of why there were strangers in ‘their’ house at night.

As we know dementia interferes with a person’s ability to make new memories, a major reason why people can remember things years ago but can’t remember what was said yesterday.  Uniforms are universal, everyone has grown up knowing a uniform signals a care giver (within a health/care environment).  A uniform refers a person back to a long term memory, it is easier to explain why this ‘stranger’ is in your House, or even to explain it isn’t someone’s individual home – they are here to give/share care.

I respect that others may take a different view, but for me, and for us here at Erskine, uniforms and all the benefits they provide are here to stay.

And Geoff – no, this doesn’t relate to the military background of our residents.

 

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One Comment leave one →
  1. September 13, 2017 1:34 pm

    Really interesting blog here – I stumbled on it when searching for things tagged with SSSC23Things. It’s great to see people in leadership roles leading by example and applying their digital capabilities to support reflection, practice and learning.

    You should have a look at Thing 2 – Open Badges (http://23digital.sssc.uk.com/?p=80) and get some recognition for your digital skills. I’ll then be able to add your blog to the list of 23Things: Digital participants.

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