Care Aware is an online long term care (LTC) information site for elderly people and their families. It aims to improve public understanding and knowledge about the care system and to help people make sense of the complex issues associated with care provision and funding.
The initiative was first devised in 1996 when a Care Aware director’s parents needed care but found there was nowhere to turn for advice. The issue was further highlighted in 1999 by the Royal Commission on LTC which expressed concerns about obtaining such information and sought to change the situation.
And the site was eventually launched on the major search engines in October 2000 after undergoing a successful trial period of three months.
Site development manager Jacqui Thomson was in a good position to help to set up Care Aware’s net presence, having worked in the care industry since she was a teenager. Her mother ran a care home in Cheshire and Thomson is still involved from time to time. She says: “You can’t just switch off at the end of the day. The residents became like my extended family and their worries and concerns are always close to your heart.”
Working in a home, Thomson explains, can be a harrowing experience. She says: “There were lots of happy times with the residents, families and staff, as well as sad times.
“The decision to come into care is often traumatic for both the resident and the family. This could affect them for the rest of their lives, so a lot of patience, understanding and support are required when dealing with the elderly and their families. The resident’s well-being comes first.”
Thomson identifies money as a resident’s and relative’s main concern. They often worry about using all of their capital and having to move home again.
These fears are widespread. Far more so than internet use among the target market – and so Care Aware has also produced a series of leaflets so that those who do not have access to the internet can still access the same information (see box above).
Thomson says: “Residents and their families sometimes lose out because they don’t understand the system. This could cost them thousands of pounds in lost benefits and, most of all, their savings and capital, which has taken a lot of time and hard work to build up.”
“But in the majority of cases with the right help and advice it is possible to obtain maximum benefits, while protecting most of their capital and ensuring that care fees can be met indefinitely.”
The site’s popularity is evident in the amount of hits it gets each month. Figures show there has been a 20 to 50 per cent increase in hits over the last six months – 80 per cent of which have been from searchers new to the site or from people researching information for a relative or friend.
Thomson says: “We are very keen to get feedback from people about the website. We are looking at ways to improve and develop it. This might include enabling people to have an online chat to have their questions answered.”
Care Aware also has a 24-hour helpline. Callers can build up a relationship with the person they first spoke to when they call again. Helpline staff are employed in-house and based in Manchester, but after hours the Lancashire Ambulance Service picks up the calls.
However, Thomson is keen to point out that Care Aware does not provide financial advice – just impartial advice to point people in the right direction when they need care.
• Contact Care Aware at PO Box 8, Manchester M30 9NY Helpline: 08705 134 925 Website: http://www.careaware.co.uk