Interview with former Health Minister Ann Keen

25th November 2016

Vida’s cofounder Devika Wood had the privilege of interviewing Ann Llyod Keen, former MP and Health Minister for Vida’s webinar series. Watch the interview below to learn what Keen believes needs to change in order for improvements to be seen in the social care sector.

“68 years ago the NHS was started. Bold, brave, brilliant move. Social care needs the same bold move.” – Ann Lloyd Keen

Devika: Hi. I’m Devika Wood, Co-founder of Vida, and today we’ve got Ann with us, former health minister. Really happy to have her with us, and we’re going to do a question and answer time. So, Ann, can you tell us a bit about yourself, your background, and where did you come from? 

Ann: I’m very pleased to do so. I was born in a very small community in North Wales, very close-knit, where everybody cared for each other. We looked after my grandmother at home, and I had brothers and sisters. My mom didn’t work. Politics was always in our home because of just the nature of the area in wales, and I never imagined I would be a nurse let alone be an MP. I traveled down to London in the ’70s to do my training as a nurse, and I realized how political health is, and in particular when I did my community nursing. I was delighted to be elected to parliament in ’97, and I served with Gordon Brown as his parliamentary private secretary while he was Chancellor of the Exchequer and then moved on to be a health minister. All of this was bit of a dream really for me, but I took the position and the responsibility very seriously, because to be part of a health team that’s delivering policies for the people in our country is such important work. And, of course, I had knowledge as well as learning the parliamentary procedure, which was very strange and still is strange, but actually having the knowledge of the policies was so, so important. 

Devika: So regarding the current government policies on social care, how has it changed, has there been any change, and what do you think there should be implemented? 

Ann: Sadly, there hasn’t been, and that’s across all parties. My party, the Labour Party, prior to the 2010 election when Andy Burnham was Secretary of State, we did try to introduce big change and changed to put before the electorate, because you see, it will take all parties to come together to make a change. Sixty eight years ago, the NHS was started, bold, brave, brilliant move. We had to bring the house of parliament and the people, all the professions, with us. Social care needs the same bold move, and to do that, we have to have a consensus. And at the moment, it’s not about us. It’s about who we can blame for getting it wrong, and really, this is not good enough. This is really not grown-up politics, and we’ve got to be different.

We have to look at funding, and the NHS is paid for out of national insurance and taxation. It’s my belief that social care should be as well, and it should be equal across the board. We expect the same sort of treatment if we need the health service, because we have a diagnosis that requires us to have treatment there. We should have the same standard of care when we actually need what’s described as social care, but sometimes that social care is confused with health care as well, and that’s the big debate. To me, it’s quite simple. If you can’t care for yourself, and maybe for this talk we’re chatting about older people, because, of course, care comes in all sorts of packages and age groups, but we’re talking predominantly of people who have worked, paid into a system, contributed greatly to our country, now are being neglected. And I use that word wisely, because I do believe they’re being neglected, and in fact, all the reputable agencies giving reports daily on what is really a scandal. Now, it’s my country. I want to be proud of everything we do in our country, and one way we’re judged is how we look after our most older and vulnerable people, and how we look after our older and vulnerable people today, well, I am very, very ashamed. Therefore, I’m delighted to be with you, delighted with your company, with Vida. It’s such an inspiration when I met you to know that people like yourself, young people like yourself, are determined to make a difference, and you deserve to be listened to.

Devika: Well, thank you. I’m very touched by that. So regarding Brexit, obviously this whole thing has happened. I know that our entire team, we’re young. Like you said, we’re all doing the same thing, we want to improve the lives of the elderly and make a better system. We definitely all voted remain, but we’re leaving. We do believe this will have a dramatic effect on the supply of our carers, and obviously that’s then going to have an awkward effect of all the people that we’re trying to care for. What do you think will be the impact of Brexit, and how do you think as a nation we can combat the inevitable divide that’s gonna happen with the supply of carers?

Ann: Well, you’re right to be concerned. I voted to remain. The whole health and care system, in fact, most of our public services, really do rely on people from all over the world, and we have benefited tremendously from the skill, knowledge, and commitment, and compassion that they show. But the care sector now, people…you know, we want the Prime Minister to be able to say those who are here can stay, because it’s making organizations within the public and private sector very difficult to manage, because understandably people don’t know whether they can stay, and it’s important that the Prime Minister makes a decision very soon. I’m surprised it’s taking so long, because the vulnerability carers and the care sector is in crisis. It’s in crisis financially, and it will be in crisis with the workforce shortage, and that’s obvious today, and it would get worse. You know, we’ve got to sit up and say this is real, this is happening now, and unless we all act upon it, we will sit there and say, “Oh, how did this happen? We didn’t see it coming.” No way can you say that, because we know and the politicians know there is the Autumn Statement next week. What’s gonna happen with money that goes into that. You know, politics can be very boring to people. It really affects everybody’s life, and therefore, we must engage, and we must make sure that the Chancellor to the Parliament is listening to the care sector in particular. 

Devika: I agree. So obviously right now there’s a lot of newspaper articles coming out left, right, and center, shocking news. Every morning I wake up, and I see something new about care homes, or caring community, or people being left vulnerable in their homes, funds being cut, budgets going out the window, care contracts being handed back. It seems to me that everything seems to be crashing down around us in the care sector, and even though we’re doing Vida, it feels like we are coming up against a massive battle that we all want to win, but it seems like it’s so overwhelming at the moment. What do you think could be a model that could be implemented? If you could have any model in the world and wake up tomorrow and be able to influence it straightaway, what would be your model? 

Ann: That’s quite a question. What it would be would have to be fair and equal. It would have to be that when we diagnose, when we recognize the need, in fact, your organization, Vida, should be, and would be, and you are striving to make that the gold standard that everybody adheres to. You are looking after your workforce. You’re paying them both the living wage. You are training them. You are making them feel as important as they should be, because they are important. It’s an extremely difficult job at times. It’s emotionally draining at times, and you’ve got to use your brain, your head, your heart, and your hands to be a carer. And there’s very few parts of life at work where you actually use all three, head, heart, and hands, and this is very much the case how anybody can go in to a vulnerable person with a 15-minute clock watch and know that they are doing a good job. It’s not possible. It is not possible, and we have to bring this out to the forefront. We are now saying we believe children who are being abused. We now have domestic violence for women, haven’t we? Elder abuse is really important, and we know that there are instances where families have been devastated, when they’ve put cameras in care homes. That should never have to be the case, and we know that to do that, if we look after the people who are caring, they are much more likely to do better for the person and for the family to be involved. You know, we all in this country seem to want everything much better, much more efficient, everything, every verb and adverb we can use, but we don’t pay any more tax. 

Well, the countries that have more of a reputation for high standards do pay more tax, pay more tax for their roads, for their transport, and for their health. Now, we can only address this serious problem if we sit around a table together, agree a plan forward, and put that plan to the public, to your generation of young people to know what’s expected of you as you get older. Your grandparents, my grandparents payed for me when I wasn’t working. It’s a universal way of looking after people. In fact, it’s the only way, because any of a system will break down, and then there will be subtly. And when it goes wrong, yes, it goes wrong on a balance sheet, but it actually goes wrong for that person who’s sitting, waiting for a door to knock. For 15 minutes, they get labeled, they get labeled that they’re incontinent. They’re not incontinent. They can’t get to the toilet. I’d be incontinent if I couldn’t get to the toilet, if I didn’t have the mobility and I didn’t have the ability to get there. The dignity involved in what we take for granted is devastating to somebody that’s older, and this cannot go on, and I praise you again, because you’re doing your utmost to do this. If you are doing this, why are not others doing it? And you just have to keep going, because it’s tough, and you have to keep going. 

Devika: It’s definitely tough. I mean, it’s one of those challenges that I think, like I said, at the time, it just feels so insurmountable, because that just seems to be such an array of issues. As an industry, it’s just labeled with problems that just build up, and build up, and build up. And it seems quite obvious to myself, because I’ve seen it firsthand with my grandma, and it seems to me like it’s an obvious fix. You have somebody well-trained, incentivized, well-looked-after. Make them feel like part of that family or more of a friend and a companion to that person they’re looking after, and they will deliver that care with compassion, empathy, which is what that old person wants. They want to feel like they’re being looked after, because they have dignity. Older people have the utmost respect and dignity. They wouldn’t burden people. They want to feel like they’re giving something back even though they can’t. And I feel like as soon as we start treating our carers that way and giving them the skills and the vocation to be able to just give the care better, it just seems to all make sense. But, like you said, you cannot deliver anything in a 15-minute stop.

Ann: No, and everybody knows that. I believe Secretary of State, Jeremy Hunt, agreed with that statement only the other day in parliament. He agreed when that question was put to him. Well, that’s funny. But what are you going to do about it?

Devika: Yeah, exactly.

Ann: You know, it’s actually serious, serious work now. When cars are not assembled correctly, quite likely they get taken off the assembly line. When all sorts of things happen to projects, they visit investigation, and it’s put right. Well, actually, these are people, and there are families who are in great distress. Massive guilt taking place. Nobody wants to get out of bed and harm people, or in the main, nobody gets out of bed to want to harm people. We get out of bed to go to work to do the best we can. When you know you are not doing the best you can because you’ve not been allocated enough, that’s so stressful on the person that’s doing the care and the zero hours in all of this way. In other words, we pay the lowest paid person in the land with the least training, “It’s okay. You can go and look after my mom and dad.” I’m quite happy with that. Well, we’re not happy. You’re not happy, and we’ve got to get more people with you, and I don’t believe that that’s gonna be an issue. I think you will, and your organization, highlight this in the most positive way, not a party political way. It doesn’t work. You’ve got to have consensus to get this through.