A social worker and a black labrador saved my life

17 July 2019

Jackie KennedyJackie Kennedy

Thanks to a forward thinking, caring, compassionate social worker and my canine partner Kingston, I have a life where I am living and not just existing.

I was honoured to be invited by Stella Smith, Principal Social Worker, to come along to Camden on World Social Work Day (March 2019) to share my story on how developing a relationship with a social worker called Joy saved my life.

Prior to meeting Joy, I had been in receipt of a social care package that wasn’t fit for purpose. I struggled to cope and my life rapidly slipped down into a very dark and lonely abyss. I became socially isolated and would spend weeks without going outside my front door. I virtually gave up on life. I have complex long term health conditions and also suffer from depression and severe PTSD. As I have said, the social care package I had wasn’t fit for purpose and I continued to struggle. I was barely existing. At the end of 2015, I was admitted to hospital as a result of status epilepticus; I was discharged from hospital and I contacted the duty social worker to request a review of my care package in the hope that it would be changed.

After quite a while of waiting, numerous emails and phone calls, I was allocated a social worker. I had previous bad experiences with a couple of social workers so I was dreading the visit. Within two days I received a telephone call from a social worker who introduced herself as Joy, who asked me lots of questions and arranged to visit me the next day. On the day of the visit, Joy arrived on time and was warm and friendly, she put me at ease and we settled down to chat. It was clear from the start that Joy had taken the time to read previous notes and learn about me, something that the previous social worker had not done.

Joy explained that the reason my social care package wasn’t working was due to the fact that 95% of my needs were health related and these hadn’t been taken into consideration previously. She explained that I needed to be reviewed and that I may be eligible for Continuing Health Care and a Personal Health Budget. Joy had come prepared with easy to understand information on the process and eligibility and what it meant to me.

During my assessment Joy asked, ’What mattered to me? What did I want from life?’ She asked what she could do to help me reach my goals. To be honest, I burst into tears; this was the first time in over 10 years that a professional had asked me what I really wanted, instead of telling me what I needed. I really felt that Joy was interested in my life and aiding me to work out what I wanted in my care plan and how we could attain our agreed outcomes.

It was during our assessment that I dropped a pen. My canine partner, Kingston, immediately retrieved the item and placed it back into my hand. If I had dropped anything prior to being partnered with Kingston, then I would have to wait to ask someone for assistance or risk falling out of my wheelchair trying to retrieve it myself. Joy was impressed with Kingston and asked what else Kingston could do for me. I demonstrated how Kingston could aid me in getting undressed, and help position me in bed; these are a couple of the 300 commands that Kingston can perform.

Joy asked me if I had ever considered having Kingston added to my care plan. We spoke at length about it and agreed to try to add Kingston on to my care plan. We faced resistance, but Joy and I wouldn’t give in. We provided evidence of Kingston’s financial worth and the money he would save the NHS and adult social care. We estimated that in care costs alone Kingston saves over £120,000 per year. All through the process I felt as if Joy was part of ‘team Kingston’ and we worked together to convince the Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG).

I am happy to say that on 5 January 2018 my Personal Health Budget went live. My care was now 100% NHS funded. As part of this care plan I was allocated £3,000 to cover Kingston’s costs such as his health insurance, food, preventative medicine. Kingston is my Guardian Angel. We have been partnered since 12 October 2015 and Kingston has physically saved my life on nine occasions.

Kingston is recognised by the NHS as one of my personal assistants. Kingston helps me get up in the morning, he pulls back the duvet, gently takes hold of my pyjama bottoms and moves my legs out of the bed. With the aid of a rope tug, he then helps me into a sitting position and pulls me up, I transfer into my wheelchair whilst Kingston retrieves my clothes that I will wear that day, we then go into the shower where Kingston stays with me, he passes me everything I need and holds one side of the bath towel whilst I hold the other and between us we tug the towel back and forth to help dry my skin. The independence that Kingston has given me is priceless.

Kingston has the ability to detect if I have a hypoglycaemic attack (low blood sugar). When this happens, he will go into my bedroom and retrieve my hypo kit and activate my telecare emergency alarm. If I’m having a hyperglycaemic attack (high blood sugar), he will go to the fridge, open the door and retrieve my insulin kit. Before Kingston I would have ended up in A&E and been admitted multiple times. In 2018, with Kingston’s excellent care, he prevented 64 ambulances coming to my home, which equates to £254,000 in savings to the NHS. In fact since being partnered with Kingston he has saved over £837,000 and continues to save money on a daily basis.

Thanks to Joy and Kingston I have a life where I am productive. I volunteer at various charities and am a speaker for Canine Partners. There are currently 440 working partnerships and I spend my time trying to educate CCGs, social workers, physiotherapists and occupational therapists as well as politicians to the financial worth of assistance dogs within health and social care. My aim is to see all these 440 canine partners included in their human partners care plans.

My life is now full of purpose. I have become a self-advocate for my own health and work alongside health care professionals in identifying and exceeding positive outcomes. Thanks to Joy, a forward thinking, caring, compassionate social worker and my canine partner Kingston I have a life where I am LIVING and not just existing. I now advocate for the voiceless and have so much to be grateful for. I encourage peers to celebrate good social work practice and to work with social workers to change the system for the better and to develop strong relationships and to transform care for everyone that needs it.

I thoroughly enjoyed meeting some of the wonderful social workers in Camden and look forward to returning at another time to meet the rest of such a great team.

About the author

Jackie Kennedy is self-advocate and speaker for Canine Partners.

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