Exploring how better relationships are key to better care

Researchers in the Open University School of Health, Wellbeing and Social Care have received a grant from the Hallmark Foundation, a charity that invests in the future of care, to work together to further explore the concept of ‘relational care’ and how it can successfully be delivered in UK adult care settings with a focus on older adults.

The concept has been researched extensively by Jenny Kartupelis MBE who will be teaming up with the OU researchers for the project.

What is relational care?

Current practice in social care is often based around ‘person-centred’ care with the focus on the individual needs of the recipient. In contrast, ‘relational care’ – a relatively new concept in the field of social care – promotes a move from a one-way flow of care towards mutuality in caring relationships, recognising that individuals should not be solely ‘givers’ or ‘receivers’. It foregrounds the importance of creating support networks by enabling all those involved (e.g. older people, professionals, carers, volunteers, relatives and providers of carer facilities) to contribute as much as they can and wish, to their peers and communities. These networks, in turn, improve wellbeing and increase autonomy, providing more life purpose for everyone concerned.

The research

Funded by a grant from the Hallmark Foundation, the OU team is co-led by  the OU’s Professor of Care, Carers and Caring, Professor Mary Larkin, and Lecturer in Aging, Dr Manik Gopinath. The aim of the project is to identify the factors needed in UK care settings to successfully embed a relational care approach as well as the standards and training needed to ensure appropriate governance. Mary and Manik have said:

“We are really pleased to partner with the Hallmark Foundation on this excellent research opportunity to promote and embed relational care across the adult care sector as a means of: improving the delivery of care and support services, prioritising the critical sectoral issue of training and expansion of the social care workforce and enhancing wellbeing”

An advisory group, chaired by Jenny Kartupelis, includes academics, specialists and senior practitioners in the field of AgeTech and environmental design.  The advisory group members will individually and collectively guide the research team at the design, investigation and dissemination stages.

As well as a report outlining the findings of the research, the project will produce a relational care toolkit and free learning resources delivered via the OU for regulators and care home providers.  It is also hoped that a further outcome will be the recognition of the criteria that favour relational care in standards and evaluations of facilities.

The Hallmark Foundation’s ambition in partnering with the OU on this project is to help raise awareness of the benefits of relational care approach and to support both providers and regulators in the UK to embed it into older adult care in the UK.

Stephen Burke, Chief Executive of the Hallmark Foundation, said: “We are delighted to fund and partner with The Open University for this ground-breaking research project to improve the quality of care and help everyone age well.

“Covid has demonstrated the importance of relationships in all our lives and what happens when those are disrupted. Relationships with people of all ages provide meaning and purpose, wherever we live and whatever care we might need. We hope the project will provide models of relational care that can be replicated across this country and beyond. And most importantly, it will help create happier, fulfilling lives for older and disabled people, their families, carers and communities.”

The project is expected to deliver its research findings in early 2023.

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