Humanising Care in Practice: Somerset Dementia Collaborative

In response to the National Dementia Strategy, 2009, funds were allocated from the Somerset Strategic Services Improvement Fund (SSIF) to improve dementia care in Somerset’s general hospitals.

The SSIF Dementia Project was a multi-agency initiative and was set up to focus on dementia training in order to develop the skills and knowledge of staff to enable better and more effective working with people with dementia and their carers and families by developing staff awareness and confidence in caring for patients with dementia, through the creation of a sustainable network for learning.

The SSIF Dementia Project Group agreed to move away from traditional models of learning and achieving change by being innovative in its approach to the project. Together with Bournemouth University the group worked to develop a programme for staff that would support them to work with dementia patients, families and their carers by:

  • Providing practical learning and support
  • Working with them to develop practice
  • Providing sustainable learning opportunities

The project ran for a year from April 2010 until March 2011. Two members of staff were recruited to facilitate the project which involved working with staff from thirteen community hospitals and two general hospitals situated in the county of Somerset. Based on a philosophy of attending to the ‘human dimensions of care’ (Todres et al., 2009) the project involved three strands:

  • Lived Experience Workshops, designed to support staff to experience the difficulties that patients with dementia face on a hospital ward.
  • Ward-Based Projects that allowed staff to adopt a project aimed at enhancing the experience for the person with dementia and their carers and family members.
  • An on-line platform for staff to exchange ideas and good practice.

The approach that the facilitators took moved away from the more traditional didactic form of teaching with its tendency to focus on the biomedical model of dementia, towards a model that focuses on the humanising aspects of care, where the patient is seen as a human being and, not just a diagnosis. In particular, staff were asked to consider the challenges patients with dementia might face when coming onto their ward rather than the challenges the staff themselves might face. This approach offered staff a unique experience by drawing on the humanisation framework, and this allowed them to ‘see the world from a dementia person’s eyes’. This empathic oriented approach to learning, worked on an emotional rather than an intellectual level, and there is some evidence that the strategies used in this project facilitated new understandings for staff. A key feature concerns how strategies emerged rather than being directed from top down.

The overall success of the Somerset Collaborative for Dementia Care Project lies in its multi-agency approach, which saw a number of agencies coming together and working collaboratively to support the aims of project, and the two specialist project facilitators.