I joined the Countess of Chester Hospital in 2012, with the brief to work differently with people with dementia, to improve their journey through the minefield of an NHS hospital stay. My role expanded to include delivering dementia awareness training for clinical staff. However, I’ve always had the view that everyone who works at the hospital, from the front of house volunteer to the chief executive, should know the basics about dementia: what it is, and more importantly, what it isn’t.
One in three people over the age of 65, in the UK, will die with dementia, and the average age of a patient in a hospital bed in the NHS is 75. All staff, whatever they do for a living, are going to get old, they are going to have older people in their families, and live in a community. So what is the point of a dementia friendly hospital, when the community it sits in isn’t? Therefore, I was also keen to offer training to all organisations, members of the public and carers of people with dementia. Carers need education and training, as well as ongoing support.
About the same time as this, the Alzheimer’s Society had just launched their dementia friends initiative. This is a social movement providing free information sessions on dementia, telling people the small things that you can do to improve the lives of people living with dementia. It is also about creating dementia friendly communities, so that was a perfect fit for me. With a small amount of tweaking, the our model of dementia friends was born, providing a basic level of information and awareness for all, and also creating more dementia friends for the Alzheimer Society.
Requests came for me to run these sessions outside of the hospital, in community halls, GP surgeries, banks and shops.
Sometimes you don’t know where you’re going, but you know that you don’t want to be where you are – and that can be a motivation for change. Be innovative, passionate and positive. Rock the boat, but remember the bigger the boat, the more people you need to rock it. If you’re going to implement change, you need to take people with you. It’s the people who take the risk and come with you who provide the sustainability. Share your success with others and don’t be precious about your intellectual property: think of the greater good.
In 2014, I pledged to create 2000 dementia friends by the end of dementia week: 23 May. By December, I had delivered my 100th dementia training session. These dementia workshops have now been delivered to over 3,000 people. The impact of the 3000+ people who have now attended these sessions has been widespread, with the desire to create a dementia friendly town and borough. People from all walks of life have attended. All have pledged to do something different to improve the lives of people who live with dementia and their carers. People have also been inspired to become dementia friend champions. In the hospital, we have created a dementia operational group now and have launched the West Cheshire Dementia Action Alliance through the Council.
My other NHS Change Day pledge was to roll out this model of dementia awareness to other NHS trusts. The opportunity to create a dementia friendly NHS is now a reality as NHS North West Strategic Clinical Networks are supporting this initiative as it also meets the outcomes of NHS Tier 1 awarenesss training. They are back-filling some of my time to develop a 'train-the-trainer' package so other hospitals can deliver their own unique mix of tier 1 and dementia friends.