The innovative move will see Belinda Dewar take up the specially-created post of Nurse Consultant for Older People – a sector which includes an estimated 40,000 care home places and 4085 nursing staff.
The Nurse Consultant post was commissioned by the Chief Nursing Officer for Scotland, Paul Martin, and the Scottish Executive will fund the appointment for the next two years. Working closely with the Care Commission, this is being seen as an important step in improving the care of older people and providing leadership and support to nurses working in the sector.
Deputy Health Minister Lewis Macdonald announced the appointment while speaking at a conference for the Royal College of Nursing in Edinburgh and nursing leaders and groups including Age Concern and Help The Aged have also welcomed the bold move.
Mrs Dewar, a leading expert and research specialist into care for older people has promised she will work tirelessly in conjunction with her colleagues to prevent care homes from becoming “Islands of the Old”. She added: “This is the first time a role like this has ever been created so it is very much a blank canvas. The scope of the job is massive and the challenge of working with my colleagues in the Care Commission to drive up standards is something I am very excited about taking on. There is no doubt the majority of nurses in care homes are doing an excellent job. However, up until now they have very much been working in isolation with little support or guidance.
“Equally, many residents in these care homes can feel as if they are living on Islands of the Old because they have very little, if any, contact with the outside world. Many never leave the home and few people from the wider community ever visit a care home. It is vital that all agencies and key bodies are working towards improving this situation by providing better training and educational opportunities for nurses and improving interaction between older people and their communities.”
While the Care Commission’s regulatory and inspections duties protect society’s most vulnerable groups, including children and people with disabilities, it is the issue of care homes for older people that is foremost in the public conscience. In recognition of that, the Care Commission has already carried out the first ever Scotland-wide review of the quality of care in homes for older people, as well as a detailed study of the infection control standards in such homes.
However, it is the appointment of Mrs Dewar, a leading expert on care for older people, which is the boldest move to date in the ongoing drive to improve nursing standards and care across the board.
Initially a two-year position, the role is to work across all agencies - independent, statutory and voluntary - responsible for the 4085 nurses in care homes, with the single aim of improving services to older people.
This will include implementing better training and educational opportunities for nurses, encouraging leadership within the profession, increasing job satisfaction, promoting best practice initiatives and developing partnerships and relationships between nurses
and older people.
Mrs Dewar, who has substantial experience in nursing education and research, will be responsible for designing and implementing the programmes and strategies to deliver improved services to older people in care homes. This will involve working at a strategic level with key organisations and stakeholders including Scottish Care, Local Authorities, NHS Scotland, the Scottish Executive and the Royal College of Nursing.
Mrs Dewar, who is from Edinburgh and will be based at the Care Commission’s Musselburgh office, also insists that she is determined to work at a “grass roots” operational level to make the difference: “Obviously I am one individual across many care homes and nursing staff in Scotland so the majority of the work will be at a strategic level, devising and putting in place systems to deliver improved care and working with my colleagues in the Care Commission who regularly inspect these homes. I would also like to do some on-the-ground pilot work across a number of care homes, meaning I would have much closer dealings with nurses on a personal level to develop flagship best practice and promote leadership.
“I am also committed to helping residents and their families have a voice in their care, which is a key aim of the Care Commission, and plan to implement strategies to ensure that older people and their families are truly involved in the development of services within the care home sector.“
Help the Aged in Scotland Director Liz Duncan welcomed the appointment saying: "We are convinced Belinda Dewar will have a speedy and positive impact in this challenging position, as she brings extensive experience coupled with vast measures of commitment, care and sensitivity towards vulnerable people.”