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  • 21 February 2011
  • 4 min read

Karen Foley - Assistant Manager in a Residential Unit

  • Matt Farrah
    Co-Founder, Niche Jobs

Karen talks to us about working with people who have dementia, and why it's so important for anyone starting a career as a care assistant to gain their NVQ qualifications.

Can you introduce yourself, the role you’re currently working in and the kind of patients you work with?

I'm Karen and at present I am working as an assistant unit manager in a residential unit with residents who have Dementia / Alzheimer's.

You don’t have to give the exact name, but what kind of organisation do you work for?

I work for the local authority.

You have over 25 years experience in various social care jobs, how did you begin your career?

I first became interested in care while looking after a family member with multiple sclerosis and discovered the necessity of outside help and good care provisions.

You’ve been in your current role as Assistant Unit Manager for 6 years now. Can you describe a typical day for you?

A typical day for me is liaising with whoever I am taking the shift over from, whether that be night staff for an early shift or the morning assistant manager if doing a late shift, attending to the health and welfare of our 30 residents all with high dependencies, administering all prescribed medications at regular times, attending meetings or phone consultations with GP's, Care Managers, my own manager, or family members.

A typical day also involves making sure the rota is covered, that building issues are dealt with, and on sometimes doing staff supervisions if they are due as well as ensuring that everything necessary for the residents is being done.

You’ve also achieved your NVQ 4 in Health and Social care. How has this helped your day to day working life?

I achieved my NVQ4 4 years ago and this has helped me enormously in my daily working life by helping me with the knowledge and the confidence to carry out my job properly, also giving me the qualification necessary to carry on training for the A1 award.

As part of your current role you have also achieved the A1 assessor award. Can you describe the process of assessing an NVQ candidate?

The process of assessing candidates for their NVQ is individual to each of them as every one chooses to learn in their preferred way but the basics are at least 3 direct observations with me where I will watch and note their practice, ask questions around health and safety, infection control etc.

I ask them the reasons why they are doing something in a certain way to try and bring out their knowledge of protocols and procedures. I will help them arrange their portfolios ready for inspection and try and give as much encouragement and help as needed to make it an enjoyable thing for them, not a chore.

Do you think it’s important for anyone thinking of a career in care to start by training for their NVQ 2 and 3 award?

I think it's massively important for all staff to have or be working toward an NVQ 2 or 3 in care as I personally am sure that working through an NVQ makes candidates stop and think about the importance and implications of their role and the implications of not doing things properly.

My personal thoughts are that staff now need all the knowledge they can have to start their careers in care.

In your career you’ve had a great deal of experience with people suffering with dementia. Have you seen any changes in the way people who have this condition are cared for?

There have been lots of changes to the way we work with residents with dementia over the years. I think the main one is that less medications being used for behavioural issues, more person centred care, more activity based care and lots more understanding of the illness, although there is still so much to learn by all.

There is still discrimination against people with this illness. For example, hospitals among others sometimes refusing to give appointments saying it's not worth it, so there is still a long way to go and lots more changes to be made.

Do you think there needs to be more specialist training available for social care and health care professionals working with people who have dementia?

There definitely needs to be training for all staff who come into contact with this illness, not just staff working in the units. A & E units and GPs should all have specialist training as this is where a lot of problems come from.

Jackie Pool and Associates do a really good training course with 4 modules of study, which all our staff attend but the training offered is still not deemed as essential in some organisations!

Have you been affected by budget cuts or redundancies in your organisation, and how has this affected the day to day running of the unit?

Our local authority has been massively affected by the budget cuts from government resulting in great job losses throughout the county, including myself. We have just been informed that the units will run on part time staff and have all had our hours cut to 28 hours with only 4 staff thought to be necessary at any one time.

This has had a massive impact on the residents as there is only time for the basics, bathing, feeding, making beds and no time for the activities, nail polish sessions, singalongs and all the extra things that make life more bearable for them.

We are employing an activities coordinator but they will only be with us for 37 hours a week and cannot be there and make enough difference for all.

  • Matt Farrah
    Co-Founder, Niche Jobs

About the author

  • Matt Farrah
    Co-Founder, Niche Jobs

I'm fascinated by the career choices we all make. It speaks about who we are. People choose to become a nurse or work in medicine or care for one of two reasons. One: simply, they always wanted to be a nurse or social worker or doctor. Two: even more simply, they want a job which helps people. In our blogs I want to explore these career choices: the ones that put other people first.