It Ain’t Necessarily So – 9: Do we really need staff rooms and staff toilets?
Caring Times, October 2013
with JOHN BURTON
When I first managed a large local authority home for older people in the early 1980s, I was handed a key for the “Matron’s” lavatory. It was right next to the office and it was for the matron’s (my) exclusive use. It was cleaned every day.
Outside in the passageway sat about 20 residents, many of them already soiled and wet. Others would ask anyone passing for help to go to the toilet which was 50 feet away. The residents’ toilets were cold and often dirty, and there were no locks on the doors.
Beyond the residents’ toilets and as far away from the residents’ bedrooms and lounges as you could get, was the staff room. It was a slum: smoke-filled, dirty, and crowded. On the wall was the call bell indicator board and on the door was a padlock. There were dirty mugs and plates all around, and little parcels of toast wrapped up in paper towels.
The newer and weaker members of staff were sent to answer the call bells by the established workers, who remained with their fags and coffees until they reluctantly shifted themselves to go and make beds, serve meals or embark on a round of routine bathing and toileting.
The scene I’ve described was extreme and it was more than 30 years ago, but I still see the same symptoms of defensive institutionalisation and hierarchy now. The “matron’s” lavatory and the staff room were symbolic, and getting rid of them was a symbolic act. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with the rooms and their uses but when I see “Staff Only” notices on any door in a care home, I ask why?
When, against my managers’ and the unions’ instructions, we opened all toilets to all human beings, various specious reasons were put forward for keeping toilets segregated on hierarchical lines. (There were separate toilets for all grades of staff – matron, officers, care workers, domestics, and kitchen staff.) Hygiene and the spread of infection was a favourite, but it didn’t take long for staff to understand that the residents’ toilets were dirty because staff didn’t use them, and the staff room was a slum because they had such a low regard for themselves and their job. Within a year, nearly everyone in the home had accepted that segregated toilets were unnatural and the staff room simply dropped out of use.
Nowadays, many residents have their own en-suite toilets and I don’t think staff should use them because they are personal and private to the resident. The shared toilets . . . for all people . . . should be clean (of course), warm, comfortable and attractive. Think of the pleasure one gets from a really nice washroom/toilet in a hotel or restaurant, and think of the upset that a dirty, bare and neglected toilet causes.
Of course, whether you have staff toilets and staff rooms or not depends on what you are trying to achieve in a care home. There are places where residents – and possibly visitors – would object to staff using the same toilets as them and to staff sharing their dining rooms and lounges.
However, in a homely home – a care community – where people have equal status and respect, and care is given through real relationships, I can’t see why we need to have separate “facilities”.
We found a different way: Caring Times readers tell their stories
Hannah Nicholls, head of care, Bethesda residential care home, Torquay: At the residential care home that I work in we do have a staff room with a staff toilet, but it is not generally used for its intended purpose. It is mostly a storage room for coats, bags etc. and is rarely used as anything other than a changing room.
The staff prefer to take breaks in the communal dining area and this often coincides with coffee time for the residents. (The old tea trolley was replaced several years ago with a coffee machine and residents can come and help themselves throughout the morning.)
Although we don’t provide meals for staff, any food left over from lunch can be eaten in the dining room with the residents and we also allow for staff places when laying up the dining tables. This has created a much nicer atmosphere where we are all integrating and socialising, in a similar way to meal times at home.
Similarly the communal toilets can be used by anyone in the home and often the one in the staff room is less well cared for because nobody uses it!
We are trying to break the barriers of segregation between residents and staff by using integration in all areas possible. We are currently undergoing a trial of no uniforms.
Julia – care home manager, West Yorkshire: I’m not in favour of separate staff toilets and staff rooms. We’re a family home and we haven’t got the room to have separate loos even if we wanted them. We eat together and sit together.
We have our meetings around the kitchen table and my office is a cubby hole in the attic. So, there just isn’t the space to provide separate staff loos.
We’ve had a lot of comments from different inspectors over the years but I always point to the fact that the residents (only eight of them) have quite spacious rooms, and everyone’s very happy with the atmosphere.
Our toilets are always kept clean. If there’s an accident, it gets cleaned-up immediately.
If someone gave me £100k tomorrow – or the local authority started paying decent money – I wouldn’t invest in staff facilities, I’d build a lovely conservatory so we could have more room all round.