My trip to 10 Downing Street

by Anna Littlewood, Deputy Director – Adults and Health Operations, Somerset County Council

On Tuesday 23rd November, I had an unexpected invite from the Prime Minister to No.10 Downing Street, and just a day later I was there, attending a reception to thank those who worked with Health and Care during the pandemic. There were many areas of the sector represented, from care home managers, the CQC, ADASS, Skills for Care, as well as social workers and leaders across social care.

I had no idea what to expect when I arrived, and after my bag was searched and my phone left in the lobby I made my way up the iconic stair case. Immortalised in film and television, and trodden by many a head of state – unashamedly, the image that stuck in my mind was Hugh Grant dancing his way down them in Love Actually

Anyway, I was pleased to see that it was a small gathering in one of the upper rooms, and I hoped this would give me a chance to speak to people who influence and design the policy change that the sector so desperately needs – and I wasn’t disappointed. I started the evening speaking with Jez, a dementia care home manager in Cheltenham who had himself been in a coma with covid in April 2020. His account of how his staff pulled together and went above and beyond to care and support the individuals in their care was humbling. We discussed the way the lack of integration between health and care impacts on his home and the individuals they support.

I also spoke to Samantha Jones, the Prime Minister’s special advisor for health. She was really interested in how the Discharge to Assess model was working in Somerset. I told her that Adult Social Care was at the heart of this, and that the relationships across the health and care system are what really makes it work. I also raised the issue of workforce, and how if we fixed the issues in home care the NHS would flow much better.

I then had the absolute delight of speaking to Scott, husband of the late Barbara Windsor, who spoke of the phenomenal care that Barbara received towards the end of her life and his experiences as her main carer.

When the Prime Minister arrived, we shook hands and he gave a short speech. As well as mentioning how unusual it is to get free drinks in Downing Street(!), he thanked everyone in the room for the extraordinary efforts across the sector over the past year.

The most valuable conversation for me of the evening was with Gillian Keegan, who is the new Minister for Care. I asked her whether social care reform was going to go beyond the payment thresholds and when this information would be coming out. She said detail in the white paper would be coming soon and hinted it could be before Christmas. I told her we needed a fair wage for care workers and that the profession needed the same investment as the career pathways in the NHS. It was great to have the opportunity for challenging, robust and honest conversation with the Minister, and to do this alongside Stephen Chandler, the previous Director of Social Care in Somerset and who is now the President for the Association of Directors for Adult Social Services.

The evening ended with the obligatory selfies outside No.10. One mystery remains, and that is how my name came to be on the invitation list, but I will take it as a lucky opportunity and hope I was able to represent Somerset well and make the most of the occasion.