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I love my job. I train staff working in Health and Social Care, specialising in working with Personal Assistants (PAs) and Individual Employers (IEs). An Individual employer is someone who has chosen to receive a Personal Budget/Direct Payment/Personal Health Budget. This gives them the freedom to hire their own staff directly – these staff are known as PAs. I must admit that I do get frustrated when IEs constantly refer to their PA as ‘My carer’ or ‘my girls’ and the PA says “…I’m just a carer”

I want to shout out – “NO, you are a professional – you get paid to do the job”

A carer is anyone who provides care and support, which is unpaid. This could be to a family member, a neighbour or friend who has a disability, mental illness, drug and/or alcohol dependency, chronic condition, terminal illness or who is frail and cannot manage without their support. There is usually some emotional connection within the relationship. There are around 6.5 million people in the UK providing unpaid care to a family member, neighbour or friend. Just think about it for a moment… that is one in eight adults and more than one in ten people.

However, I don’t want to talk about these unsung heroes in this article, I want to explain the difference between a ‘carer’, a ‘carer from an agency’ and a PA. If we want to professionalise the Health and Social Care Sector, we need staff to stand up and proudly proclaim their role. If we want PAs to be paid a proper wage for the important work that they perform day-in and day-out, we all need to lobby on their behalf. The rates of pay are generally set by the local councils and CCGs. In some areas PAs have not had a pay increase in over 8 years!

Let’s look at the important ‘Role of the Personal Assistant’ in Health & Social Care

The chances are (if there is still an NHS and the country can afford to continue to fund social care) I will be one of the next generation to be using these services. That is what spurs me on to do what I do. I want the support and care that I receive in the future to be world class. I do not want to use an ‘agency’ to supply me with staff to attend to my personal, physical and emotional needs – how much can you achieve in a 30 minute call? I will want consistency in staffing. I may choose to do something or make a request that is outside of the ‘care/support plan’. Agencies find this difficult to do, as they are regulated by CQC and have so many rules and regulations they have to comply with.

I want to have PAs – I already know this. I will expect my PAs to be well-trained. To have a career path. To be proud of their role and what they do. PAs are never ‘just a carer’. As I have already said – this is a comment that is regularly used by PAs when introducing their profession. Today’s PAs may be performing more health care related tasks as Personal Health Budgets become more prevalent. PAs naturally learn more about medication, nutrition, health and safety, safeguarding, etc…They may be working with an IE through their last days, providing end-of-life care and support.

The important thing for me is that PAs ensure that everyone is treated with respect as the unique human being that they are. That they are not discriminated against for any reason. That they are not judged for how they want to live their life. I tell PA’s that if what they are being asked to do is not illegal, immoral or dangerous – then what’s the problem? We all take risks in our lives – that’s one of the things that makes living fun. We should all be allowed to make bad or unwise decisions in life – I’ve certainly made more that a few in my time! Life is for living and a great PA is the person who supports you to have a life! To see beyond the disability, illness or infirmity. To work in what is known as a ‘person centred’ way. You’ve probably heard this term. Sometimes people pay lip-service to this. They say the right words, but do not always follow through with their actions.

I like to have a bath in the evening. I like my tea strong with little milk and no sugar. I love puddings. I really, really love M&S Percy Pigs. I love to read…sometimes for hours on end… I adore music of all genres – oh, except for Enya – I can’t stand Enya.

I need a PA who ‘knows’ these things about me. Who wants to find out about what makes me tick. Who values my opinions (even though they may not always agree) Who lets me handle my money when I’m in a shop. Who doesn’t bat an eye when I ask for a banana and English mustard sandwich. Who is happy for me to change plans at a moments notice if it is a lovely day and I want to go out instead of washing the kitchen floor. Who puts me at the centre of MY life. There may come a time when I cannot make my own decisions, when I cannot remember whether I take sugar in my tea. But if I have a PA who has taken the time to know my history… who knows that I have always liked my bath in the evening, and cannot stand Enya – maybe, just maybe, my life will be ‘person centred’.

So, yes PAs – you are professionals. You get paid to do a vitally important job. Stand proud. Listen to your employer and learn as much as you can. You are not ‘just a carer’.