The ability to listen and learn from one another has always been vital in parliament, in business and in most aspects of daily life. But at this particular moment in time, as national and global events continue to reiterate, it is uncommonly crucial that we forge new channels of communication and reinforce existing ones. The following article from Erskine is an attempt to do just that. We would welcome your thoughts on this or any other Parliamentary Review article.
Still known to many as The Erskine Hospital, Erskine is one of Scotland’s oldest and most iconic military charities, founded near Glasgow in 1916. Back then, Erskine specialised in the treatment and rehabilitation of physically and mentally shattered Scottish troops – caring for some 4,000 amputees during the First World War. Over a century later, CEO Ian Cumming tells The Parliamentary Review how the charity has evolved and provides an updated picture of how it operates today.
A century on, we have supported more than 100,000 beneficiaries, by meeting the evolving needs of veterans in Scotland. Today, we no longer conduct surgery and prosthetic fitment, but we are best known for ensuring veterans and their spouses receive compassionate, high-quality nursing, respite, dementia and end-of-life care.
Providing modern support
Long before veterans need our nursing care, they might need help finding employment, housing and friendship. The Erskine Veterans’ Village offers 44 beautiful family bungalows at discounted rent. Soon, we will offer 24 en-suite apartments to younger veterans who, for various reasons, including physical injury or mental health issues, leave the military unexpectedly. Perhaps arriving from the Army Personnel Recovery Centre, located in our Edinburgh Home, young veterans can use these bespoke apartments as safe bases from which to recuperate, reflect and retrain, before the next chapter of their lives. We will help them to network and gain job skills with us, or with our local business and government partners. This will help them find a new job and home in their preferred location.
We also have five accessible assisted living apartments at our largest Erskine Home. These are popular with older veterans, who remain fiercely independent but are reassured that care professionals are nearby, 24 hours a day. Our four nursing homes around Glasgow and Edinburgh remain recognised centres of excellence, steeped in a respect for our military heritage and focused on compassionate care.
The challenge of funding quality social care provision is acknowledged by Whitehall and devolved governments. Quality social care is essential to prevent decline and repeated NHS hospital admissions. Current Scottish government policy is that older people in Scotland should receive care in their own home for as long as appropriate. Consequently, veterans now move into Erskine Homes much later in their lives, often with complex, and costly, care needs, which we as a charity proudly meet.
Sixty per cent of our residents have a dementia diagnosis or are living with some form of cognitive impairment in addition to the numerous chronic and acute conditions which age and frailty bring. Our care staff deliver complex, highly skilled interventions every day – supporting residents to have a good life, and a good death. They skilfully ensure that we remain, primarily, our residents’ very own home, with compassionate care and expert clinical support on hand.
A different standard of care
We are very different from most care providers. To support our staff in delivering care excellence, we have several specialist roles within our core care team: physiotherapists, speech and language therapists, podiatrists and specialist nurses. In addition to their clinical roles, our two dementia nurse consultants deliver delirium awareness training and four levels of Scottish government endorsed training in dementia care excellence. This includes frailty simulation in our specially adapted training cottage. Our practice development nurse supports staff to transform learned care theory into delivered best practice. Our advanced nurse practitioners deliver early intervention to residents who are becoming unwell and provide consistency of input throughout an illness. ANPs also help to ensure “anticipatory care plans” are in place, so we can deliver caring and compassionate end-of-life care and support, both to residents and families. Sadly, few nurses outside the sector appreciate the significant skills and knowledge required to deliver “Erskine Care”. We therefore continually engage across the UK to educate peers and potential staff in the dynamic career choices available at Erskine, when holistically supporting our veterans’ physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing.
Extending our services to the wider community
Veterans in Scotland, as elsewhere, can suffer from isolation and loneliness, when years of service and productivity, alongside military comrades, finally end. Young, unemployed veterans living alone, perhaps with PTSD, and older veterans, bereaved or living with a sensory or cognitive impairment, can all be affected – with potentially tragic outcomes. Our residents benefit enormously from our daily offering of stimulating, meaningful activities and therapeutic sessions.
We therefore decided to extend similar services to veterans in the wider community. The Erskine Veterans Activity Centre, housed in a converted Victorian stable block, welcomes 170 members weekly, of all ages, to enjoy hot lunches, woodworking, music, archery, rambling, computing, arts, crafts, casework support and relaxation therapy, alongside like-minded souls with a shared heritage. We are therefore seeking similar, characterful venues across Scotland, from which to extend these impactful services to veterans who are isolated and lonely.
Delivering outstanding care and support services is a very expensive endeavour. Annually, we must raise £10 million to bridge the funding gap between what veterans and local authorities can contribute and the cost of providing levels of care and support which we believe veterans deserve. However, fundraising is a growing challenge. Economic uncertainties mean fewer people can donate and those who can understandably seek assurance that their investment will achieve outcomes. Historically, around 50 per cent of our voluntary income was met by gifts left in the wills of people, whose families traditionally supported “The Erskine Hospital” during conflicts. The sad demise of the World Wars generation has seen our gift income decline. We are now investing more into seeking, engaging and stewarding a new family of supporters and corporates – inspiring them with the range of innovative services we offer to the Scottish veteran community. This will involve opening new marketing, communications and donation platforms, as well as more productive collaboration.
We also remain attuned to how veterans’ needs change and what support they need to live life to the fullest. We are actively considering more Erskine Veterans Activity Centres in new locations, to deliver both meaningful social support and potential development of other services. Thus, veterans can live better lives with their loved ones and friends in their own communities. Whatever we do, veterans can be sure of a century’s worth of understanding and compassionate care services, optimised by the very latest learning and technology. We are therefore quietly confident that our current and future supporters will, like Erskine, be “Proud to Care”.