Taking the stage at NCASC 2023

Jennifer Pearl biog photo
Jennifer Pearl, National Co-production Advisory Group (NCAG)
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This was my first time attending the National Children and Adult Services Conference (NCASC), primarily because it is so very difficult for me to find somewhere to stay that is accessible. Not only was I able to attend the event this year, but I also took the opportunity to take part in two discussion panels.  

Accommodation has been an issue in the past, but on this occasion my hotel came up trumps, providing a profiling bed. Finding a care agency in Bournemouth that could provide a carer to assist me in the morning and evening was my second hurdle. I know from experience that this is rarely a straightforward process, with so many agencies lacking resources or being unwilling to take on a short-term, one-off contract. Having phoned every care agency in town awarded a ‘good’ rating from the Care Quality Commission (CQC), I finally found a new agency that was able and willing to meet my needs. I was half expecting the agency to fall short but need not have worried, the carer who was sent every morning and evening was very capable and extremely personable. 

Bournemouth International Centre is a vast red brick affair and as you would expect, is fully accessible. The exhibition area was well populated with countless stands exhibiting their services. I thought perhaps the most intriguing was a company called Genie Connect that offers a remote care robot service. One of its claims is that it can check in with people and prompt them to take their medication. Apparently, eight local authorities are already using the service. How long, I wonder, will it be before robots take over doing my physio stretches? They are bound to be better at doing them than my husband, who complains bitterly after completing five minutes. 

During the conference, I went to as many talks and discussion panels as possible and was fortunate enough to take part in two myself.  At the opening session there must have been at least 600 people present and the room was full to the gunwales. I was particularly impressed with what Beverley Tarka, President of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services had to say. She spoke extensively about unpaid carers from a personal perspective. 

One of the things I was surprised about was just how many times in plenary sessions the term ‘service user’ was used. At Think Local Act Personal (TLAP), we feel this is a term that denigrates the individual since the term ‘user’ has negative connotations. We have been working closely with  Bryony Shannon (opens new window) in recent months on updating and expanding our jargon buster and associated resources on language. At TLAP we think a better term to replace ‘service user’ is ‘people who draw on care and support’. On a personal note, I wasn’t particularly happy having my name badge stating that I was a ‘Person with Lived Experience’ I don’t like to be defined this way and so I was glad when fellow National Co-production Advisory Group (NCAG) members, Jenny and Vicky, raised the issue. 

While on the panel for ‘Adult Social Care: a career not just a job’ along with Gareth Young, Deputy Director of Adult Social Care Workforce DHSC, and Geraldine Hodge, Adult Social Care Senior Specialist CQC, I was able to share some of the work I did with TLAP on understanding the values that people who draw and care and support prize most highly when applied to the care workforce, as well as sharing my own experience of how good values translate to good care. This work will feed into the Care Workforce Pathway, which will hopefully be published early next year. My voice and that of many others have fed into the whole process. 

One key workforce issue is the derisory pay that carers receive, something I do tend to harp on about. Currently my carers get £10.48 an hour. I am very pleased to hear that from next April they will be paid £1 more an hour. However, what I hadn’t appreciated was the fact that no more money is being provided by the central government to pay for it. So, some difficult decisions will need to be made by the Directors of Adult Social Care and Councils of how to manage the increase in costs. This was one of several difficult questions put to Helen Whately MP and others during the conference.   

My final contribution to the conference was on the final day when I was able to ask Amanda Pritchard, CEO of the NHS a question. I asked something loosely based on the following: 

As a person living with a number of complex health conditions I have too often been on the receiving end of inflexible services. For example, my wheelchair equipment service has been very unresponsive and unhelpful to the extent that I have had to  complain. I am now involved in re-commissioning the service in my area. Some of my ideas for improvement seem to have been taken on board. What do you think can be done to make co-production with people routine, rather than leaving it until people get cross and make a fuss?  

I still pinch myself to remind myself how far I have come since I first became disabled 11 years ago. Back then I struggled to accept how I was and to come to terms with my disability. Now I am able to draw on my lived experience as well as my past work experience and share all this at large conferences like this one.  

I thoroughly enjoyed attending NCASC and left happy, stimulated by all the different sessions I attended and keen to carry on the work at TLAP and NCAG to help people better co-produce, and to support people who draw on care and support to live their lives the way they want to.  


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