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The transformative power of relational care

Jenny Kartupelis MBE, Relational Care Consultant and Visiting Fellow at the Open University

Jenny Kartupelis MBE, Relational Care Consultant and Visiting Fellow at the Open University

The current problems and future challenges facing the provision of adult social care in the UK remain high on the government and wider agendas: a soaring level of turnover – 25% – in the workforce with at least 160,000 vacancies, a dramatic 18% of care settings closing last year, and budgets eroded by inflation.

The existence of these problems needs acknowledgement as well as an acceptance that there is no single ‘magic bullet’. Nevertheless, changes to funding, attitudes and the nature of provision can all help. In relation to provision for older people, seminal research by the Open University (OU)  – The Value and Practice of Relational Care’ – shows that Relational Care has a definite role to play.

What is Relational Care?

Mutuality in care, where everyone can be both ‘givers’ and ‘receivers’, valued and accepted for themselves is a natural way of living and has been for millennia. It happens already in the best care settings. However, recognising how it happens, its key components, and its importance enables the practice to be nurtured and replicated more formally. Recent research by the Open University, funded by the Hallmark Foundation, is helping to do just this and laying the foundations for future development.

The research team has explored different settings of good practice, analysing and defining what is happening in in them day to day, how people feel about their lives, and the environments that makes this possible.  They have produced not only a full report but also a lively and easy-to-use toolkit for providers and care staff, to guide them on implementation.

Is it easy to implement?

A change of culture that purposefully enables two-way relationships and everyone to contribute to the community (whether this be day care or residential) is critical, giving a sense of belonging, acceptance and trust. This does not just happen by chance; the environment that favours it must be created, and this research describes in detail how to do this and what will be needed.  Two examples are, how to make the decision-making process more inclusive and empowering, and how to use design, décor and material objects to help people form long-term relationships.

Ease of implementation will depend on your starting point, and how much might have to change, but the costs are very unlikely to be prohibitive, and can be offset by savings from the benefits. In a new build, Relational Care can be ‘designed in’ using tested guidelines mixed with some innovation!

Multiple benefits

Does any of this this matter?  Research shows that it clearly matters to the individuals concerned: Older people and staff feel a greater sense of belonging and being valued, find more purpose and meaning in life, and are quite simply happier.  Their families are likely to reflect this in lower anxiety and greater engagement, and the local community is more likely to get involved, be supportive and become a source of staff.

This research so far also strongly indicates much higher staff retention where Relational Care is practiced, with savings on recruitment and induction becoming available for improved conditions of service. This work now needs to be taken further, to define other likely benefits such as lower client turnover, reduced medication and more overall stability for the enterprise.

Find out more

The full report: The Value and Practice of Relational Care’

The summary report: The Relational Care Report Summary

The practitioners’ toolkit: ‘Making every relationship matter’


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