I attended the Shared Lives conference in London for the first time last week and on arrival noted a different atmosphere than I had experienced at a typical conference. I have previously been invited to various health & social care conferences, which quite frankly have a very corporate feel within minutes of arriving. I appreciate that not all conferences in the health/social care industry involve carers or even for that matter some of the keynote speakers say anything relating to them, but I do despair sometimes that carers never even get a mention at all.
This conference did seem at first glance a little different and in the first few hours it became noticeable that the carer numbers attending were certainly greater than in any other conference I had attended.
It is very difficult both for pragmatic and logistical reasons for carers to attend any conference. My wife and I experience this on a regular basis. I do not believe some of the professionals attending similar conferences truly understand the importance that carers place on having even the briefest opportunity to converse with fellow carers. Many I speak with inform me we cannot overestimate the value they place on having the rare opportunity of sharing their experiences with their colleagues.
I have to admit previously, as a professional attending conferences I have been guilty of this myself. Only now in my role as a carer do I appreciate how vitally important it is to have the chance to be able to share and listen to my colleagues. The wealth of experience carers have to exchange with others is a resource that has not yet been tapped into by health & social care professionals.
I experienced an unprecedented wave of optimism at the Shared Lives conference, which had made a deliberate effort to put Carers at the forefront of all the discussions from workshops to MPs speaking at the event. In fact in my brief conversation with the Minister for Care, Norman Lamb MP I was so proud to hear him say that he would consider Shared Lives, as a possible alternative of care, if in the future his own Mum needed help. It was clear from the passion in his voice that he was sincere in his commitment to Shared Lives, which left me feeling very proud indeed as carer. We carers do sometimes feel forgotten about and frustratingly not even considered, as an alternative option of care by many Health / Social Care organisations. Listening to the Minister made me think that all is not lost and that finally we may be getting our message across.
Carers are saving Local Government & Health an average conservative estimate of £24,000 per year per person, for the individual we care for in our home. Not forgetting a further saving of circa £7,000 PA for every cared for person who has Mental Health needs. I really hope that this conference with its emphasis on carers is duplicated at other conferences up and down the country, as many similar conferences do seem to be hijacked by various lobbyists with their own agenda. It would seem that not all the conferences are highlighting the contribution carers make.
It would be difficult to name every individual I spoke with at the conference, but I can tell you after speaking with carers one could not help but feeling inspired. They spoke with a dignity and integrity that made hairs stand up on the back of my neck.
I must mention a few names. In particular Tim Southern, Andy Harvey, Nancy Plowes and of course the indefatigable Alex Fox, although I know they will not thank me for naming them individually. I want to highlight a skill that I believe many have lost, but one that I believe was a beacon of light that shone so brightly at the conference. It is an ability that all the above-named people possessed in abundance, that of being genuinely personable and approachable. I believe when a person attends a conference not knowing anyone, as happened to me at this conference, it is of paramount importance that the people in senior positions within the group take the time to engage with delegates.
I headed home on the train with a refreshing feeling that we carers are not just making up the numbers at conference, but are a valued and integral part of the Shared Lives family for the future.