SCIE opinion - 23 July 2012

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Photograph of Andrea Sutcliffe

In the shoes of ... Andrea Sutcliffe, SCIE's Chief Executive

This first appeared on the "Whose Shoes" dementia opinion

So often social care is in the news for the wrong reasons, but I firmly believe that we should not give in to the counsel of despair. As the Whose Shoes guest opinions on dementia demonstrate, thousands of people are every day cared for and supported by people who, with talent, creativity and compassion, really do care.

I am not naive (no Chief Executive can afford to be) and I do realise that where money is tight and corners are cut that quality care can be undermined and people can suffer. I also understand that caring for and supporting people with dementia is not easy and can be very challenging. Sometimes it's tough to know what to do or where to go for advice.

Which is where SCIE comes in. We exist to improve the lives of people who use care services by finding out what works and sharing that knowledge with everyone involved. We have been in existence for over 10 years (though I came into post just three months ago) and over that time we have built up an impressive array of useful material.

Dementia is a key focus for us. We launched our Dementia Gateway Dementia Gateway in 2009, drawing together practical tips, suggestions, learning activities and useful resources on a range of topics important to anyone with an interest in dementia – eating well, the environment, and difficult situations to name just a few. We have just added a new section Early signs and diagnosis which explains why getting a proper diagnosis is so important and how it can help people to plan for the future.

We have also made a number of films on Social Care TV showing the different experiences of people living with dementia and those who provide their care and support, whether that be in a care home or their own home, and at the start or end of the illness. Together with e-learning to help raise general awareness, and publications on End of life care in care homes and access to dementia services for people from BME communities, our resources offer a wide range of information, advice and guidance.

Later this year we will be introducing a new service - Find Me Good Care which will provide support and advice to help people to make informed decisions about the most appropriate care for them. You can register your interest at and we will keep you up-to-date with progress.

My staff already know that I like to connect what we do directly to the lives and stories of the people who use care services. So let me share one story with you now.

Early in my career I managed mental health services for older people and was privileged to accompany one of the consultants on a home visit. The elderly lady we visited had very advanced dementia. Her family had looked after her for a long time but now needed more help. I remember that the consultant sat and talked with the family for a long time, finding out all about their mother and her life story before she started to discuss care arrangements. Later she told me how important it was for her as a professional to know, and for the family to remember, what their mother had been like, the successes she had achieved and the trials she had survived.

It was a good lesson for a young manager to learn - never to define people by their illness, condition or needs. We are all individuals with histories, loves and concerns and we deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. I hope that the work SCIE does, particularly in dementia, can help to reinforce that simple message.

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