Professor Deborah Sturdy OBE, named as the first Chief Nurse for Adult Social Care in December 2020, has been making good on her pledge to get to know those working on the frontline by paying a virtual visit to Abbeyfield Winnersh, our state-of-the-art dementia-friendly care home in Berkshire.

Professor Sturdy received a 20-minute virtual tour of the home over Zoom, led by Registered Manager Sue Smart, during which she was able to experience the exceptional facilities and level of care that the residents experience every day.

Professor Sturdy’s tour encompassed the home’s garden, lounge, dining room, cinema, salon and resident Penny’s room. She also saw the activities room, where residents were painting and making thank-you cards for the staff, and witnessed the end of a video call a resident had made with her family, with the assistance of a member of staff.

A discussion followed the tour, during which Professor Sturdy was joined virtually by Douglas Webb, Abbeyfield Director of Retirement Living, Kirstan Sparshott, Regional Director for the East, Jen Conway, Abbeyfield’s Quality Manager, and Catherine Humphreys, CEO of the Abbeyfield Silverdale Society. Also joining were James Okeefe, Head of Care at Winnersh, and Courtney Jenkins, Occupational Therapist and the home’s Activities Lead.

Sue provided Professor Sturdy with a manager’s perspective of the pandemic and recalled her experiences at Winnersh. She outlined the immense value of the support received from the central Abbeyfield team’s COVID-19 taskforce and Wokingham Borough Council, which she said had been “instrumental to coping through this last year.”

She also explained how she had managed to cohort successfully thanks to a number of her staff, who had volunteered to work in the area reserved for residents who needed to self-isolate, which was important in the home’s ability to manage a small outbreak of COVID-19 last year. Equally important has been the need to keep the families of residents up-to-date and in touch with their loved ones.

Sue also revealed the home’s innovative approach to self-isolation. A whole area of the home had been reserved for those residents who are self-isolating, meaning that they have the opportunity to leave their rooms during their isolation period without putting others at risk.

Catherine Humphreys, whose Society manages Cove House, a 23-bed care home, and additional retirement bungalows in Silverdale, near Lancaster, reflected on the different nature of the challenges she had faced. She again expressed her gratitude for the support she and her staff team had received from TAS, as well as Morecambe Bay Hospital Trust and Lancashire County Council.

A general discussion about the impact of the pandemic on the care sector followed, during which Professor Sturdy heard about the Abbeyfield Employee Assistance Programme available to staff, and how managers have been attending a course on psychological first aid to help identify those who require further support. The impact of ‘long COVID’ and challenges around vaccinations, visitations and PPE were also discussed, along with Government funding for housing and care organisations, and a change in how older people in care are perceived by society, which had resulted in a better understanding of social care.

Professor Sturdy said, “I was delighted to meet the staff and hear about the incredible work everyone has done during the past 11 months. My virtual visit to Abbeyfield Winnersh and a walk around the home was really appreciated. There were so many activities taking place and it was fantastic to see both residents and staff having fun. I would like to thank Penny and her family, who let me see her lovely room. It was really heartening to hear the many ways in which staff have supported residents across the organisation and each other, during such a difficult time.”

To the Winnersh staff team, she added, “Thank you for all you are doing and I look forward to visiting again when we can meet in person.”