Even if we haven’t seen the film, it’s embedded in popular culture nowadays to reference Sliding Doors – a moment when something happens that changes the course of a future. We’ve all heard examples, right? Well, Jonathan Beebee’s story is up there with the very best of them…
What I know is that this year’s Great British Care Awards’ Outstanding Contribution Award winner, 44 year old Jonathan Beebee, is a Learning Disability Nurse and Founder of PBS4 – a not-for-profit, social enterprise meeting the needs of people with complex needs. What I didn’t know was how he got here:
“Well, I had a major head injury when I was 19 years old and up until that point I was dwindling my life away with no direction…and when something like that happens to you, it either makes you or breaks you, I guess. At the time, my parents were told I was facing a lifetime in a wheelchair, unable to talk, needing changing and feeding – totally dependent on them 24/7 for the rest of my life.”
Jonathan nearly died, was unconscious for six days with a subdural haematoma on the brain and part of his skull was taken out to remove the blood clot. It took at least six months of intensive physio plus speech and language therapy to make his way back. But back to what?
“A stubbornness got me through but a part of me thought, if it was to be my future, what would be out there for me. Well, it would look like this: I’m sat in a wheelchair and I can’t tell you what I want – what I like and dislike. I’m going to need carers who really sit directly opposite me, look me in the eyes, study me, have a real passion for thinking about what Jonathan wants to say…what’s going to give Jonathan a meaningful life. If you just turn up at 8 am for your shift and think, oh, he’s quiet in the corner, I’ll just sit here and scroll through Facebook all day then, well, you can do that easily, but I’m going to have a rubbish time and might start being challenging.”
This is Sliding Doors.
And so Jonathan stumbled across Disability Nursing and trained, always taking the angle that if he was receiving support, would it be good enough? And we all know sadly it too often hasn’t been. With a drive to change and influence practice, he worked his way up through NHS management positions, CQC to help regulate Learning Disability Services and also NHS England looking at how to work with offenders with LD to get fair treatment:
“I’ve always been passionate about understanding challenging behaviour and positive behavioural support because I see it as an expression: what’s important is how to help people express themselves better. So, I got to a point where I was feeling frustrated at my ability to influence change as much as was required. Then I just thought, okay, I have to roll my sleeves up and do it myself! It was a leap of faith and it was definitely scary!”
With zero business knowledge, Jonathan joined a course for Social Entrepreneurs and it provided grounding enough for PBS4 to be born nine years ago with the drive to provide clinically-led bespoke 24/7 support. And in such a short time, Jonathan has gone from setting this up alone in his Birmingham council flat to now supporting almost 40 people with a staff of 250.
The aim is to deliver bespoke support for people ideally in their own individual tenancies. Jonathan and team look at what support is needed, what the environment needs to look like and recruit the team around that person, always with a view to preventing them being sent miles away to a secure hospital. It’s not uncommon for people to come to them having had many moves and placements so part of the PBS4 ethos is resilience and sticking with people…drawing a service around them rather than slotting them into something else.
Listening to Jonathan, who is also the RCN’s Professional Lead for LD, is like hearing the future rumbling towards us like a shiny train. He has ideas – sharp, smart ideas and he needs to be heard.
“Well, it’s also trying to challenge perceptions of what social care could be. One of our values is about being disruptive – ie. thinking differently. For example, I would love to have a block of flats with one of them designed as a robust environment that still looks very homely and which can be used by local commissioners as an emergency placement for someone so they don’t have to be sent 200 miles away to a secure hospital. We can then stabilise their situation, looking towards the right place for their long term future.”
For some reason I blurt out that I think he’s the Banksy of LD social care. He laughs – a lot – and I get the feeling he really doesn’t mind the comparison. It’s a compliment as both are activists and disruptors, pushing at the boundaries.
So, what needs pushing right now?
“It’s no secret the sector is really challenged at the moment – recruitment is hard and underfunded and it’s been tempting for us to think of diversifying to other models in order to future proof ourselves. But what we’re really skilled at is supporting people with LD and Challenging Behaviours and we don’t want to lose that focus. There’s been a lot of good attention on how secure hospitals are not the right place for people. The real question is how do we get Social Care to where it needs to be to make those places redundant?” And I think we all agree with Jonathan on this: Social Care needs the same public respect as the NHS; it must become an integrated Health and Social Care system with valued career pathways and pay for support workers so that we all see it as a true profession.
Jonathan keeps on pushing…he’s also promoting LD Nurses as Ambassadors for the human rights of people especially where health and equality are concerned given the shocking mortality rates where reviews have found that people are dying younger than the rest of the population simply because they have a learning disability.
We’ve been chatting on the phone for quite some time and the energy level never drops as he expands on his world, but how on earth does he maintain his drive and formidable commitment?
“Well, there’s just a deep down passion and thinking of that 19 year old and what could have been. Passion becomes infectious…the more people you meet, the more you’re able to step into their shoes and see their passion and it all grows and culminates. We have to get it right for these people – not just for them, but their mums and dads and brothers and sisters. In fact, for all of us.”
It’s impossible to say what Jonathan’s life might have been had he not nearly died that day 25 years ago, but I absolutely do know he’s stubbornly fought to champion and massively improve the lives of very many people up and down the country.