Spotlight: Bluebird Care
For our first Spotlight of June, we spoke to the brilliant Cat Miles (Deputy Manager) at Bluebird Care.
1. How would you describe the business to someone who's not come across you before?
Bluebird is a domiciliary care company.
The office at 25 Cinque Ports Street, Rye
We specialise in working with customers and their families who require care in their own homes. We offer a unique service of personalised care from check-in visits to full live-in support.
We cater for everyone around East Sussex – our patch covers Hastings, St Leonards and Bexhill, Rye and Camber and as far out as Ticehurst – and all the villages in between. Our managing director also has the Eastbourne Bluebird franchise.
The Rother & Hastings branch is based in Rye, and we have around 70 carers working with us.
2. When was the business founded? Bluebird Care was founded in 2004 by husband-and-wife team Paul and Lisa Tarsey. They set out to revolutionise care in the home with a focus on the highest quality customer service. Bluebird Care is now one of the UK’s largest providers of care and support for people wanting to stay in their own homes.
Bluebird is a nationwide franchise – the Rother and Hastings office was founded around seven years ago.
3. What's your background Cat? How did it bring you to this business?
I’ve always been a carer. I’ve worked with other companies in the past and have done private caring too both in the UK and in Spain. I was introduced to Bluebird after a customer I was caring for required more full-time care than I could provide alone.
Cat Miles, Deputy Manager
Initially, I only wanted to work three days a week as I also combined my care work with jobs as a lecturer at college and also as a barber! So, to begin with, I did 12-hour days, three days a week caring for a lovely lady in Lydd who had recently been discharged from hospital from a hip operation but who also had vascular dementia. Over time I was asked to look after different customers, and I went to five days a week and Bluebird then asked if I’d consider an administrative role. I did that for about a year before being promoted to supervisor and then subsequently I was promoted to deputy manager.
4. What makes Bluebird Care unique?
One really big difference between Bluebird and other care providers is that everyone has risen through the ranks, the office support team have all been carers.
We simply wouldn’t employ someone for an office role who wouldn’t also take a care call. You’ve got to have the right person for the job. It really has to matter to you, if you don’t have empathy then this isn’t the career for you.
When we recruit new carers, I tell them that they need to treat every customer like they would their own mother or father – whatever they would do for them, they need to do for customers. It’s a good way to assess people’s suitability for the role.
Everyone in the office takes a turn one day each week manning the emergency phone – taking calls from both customers and carers. And once a month everyone in the office covers the emergency phone across a weekend, in tandem with one other member of staff. So, no one is above doing the important work of caring which is at the heart of what we’re about. I think that makes us fundamentally different from other businesses offering care services.
Many people join the business having approached us direct or through word of mouth. These are the people who tend to be right for the job as they seek us out, so we know they already have the right attitude to the work. We have several mum-and-daughter pairs who work with us in the business too which is lovely.
Anyone who thinks being a carer is ‘easy’ and just about making cups of tea for old people would be very wrong. While tea making might be one aspect of the job – it’s everything in between right the way through to end-of-life care.
5. What are your business's core values?
Professional quality of care and high levels of customer service.
Of course, we are also a business, and we have to be business-minded – things need to run smoothly in order to deliver the levels of service we always aspire to.
Sai, our managing director is very inspirational to the team – he’s so caring. He also runs the Eastbourne franchise which has a greater focus on live-in care than we do.
6. What are your plans for your business in 2023 – what are you focusing on?
We are always full to capacity. Having said that, the nature of care work and end-of-life care is that of course things can and do change quickly sometimes. This means our business model needs to be resilient enough to cope with those changes. We don’t want to turn away customers and we need to make sure our staff have manageable schedules.
7. What are the challenges your business faces this year?
Something that is increasingly a problem is that there is no special dispensation for parking for carers. Obviously, our work involves visiting vulnerable customers, sometimes visits overrun because the nature of those visits is unpredictable, and this means often staff face parking fines which seem unreasonable given the circumstances. We spent a lot of administrative time appealing parking tickets which again is a poor use of our time but necessary given that our staff shouldn’t be penalised for doing their jobs professionally. There ought to be some nationwide dispensation for carers to park without penalty. We give our staff a Bluebird sticker that states why the vehicle may be parked inappropriately and asks parking enforcement officers to call our office direct – this is a measure we’ve taken proactively but we shouldn’t have to.
Our recruitment process has to be really thorough because we need our staff to be super reliable. We can’t have staff calling in sick at 7am when their first call of the day is scheduled for 7am – that would have a knock-on effect for the whole day and every customer on the schedule. Making sure our team is clued up and on the ball is vital, so we avoid problems.
We can nip challenges in the bud before they become issues as we have an open policy of whistleblowing. All of our staff get the same training in the same skills. So, we tell them that if they spot something that doesn’t seem right, they must say. We can’t change things we don’t know about. Our policy of spot checks and medication competency checks also means that we build resilience into our system.
Our staff training is really thorough. Once recruited new carers will undertake in-house training in meds, first aid, basic life support and manual handling. They then have 15 online training certificates they need to complete over time. Once they start going out to customers, they don’t go out alone, but they do start with the hardest customers – so they can really see the challenges that the work presents us with on a daily basis. A new carer will go out with two professional carers to begin with just to shadow them, they then progress to going out with one professional carer to support them, then finally they attend visits but take the lead with the professional career monitoring their work. For their induction period of twelve weeks, they have weekly spot checks and medicine competency checks (right meds, right dose, right time, right person). After that period those same checks are carried out on a three-monthly basis. It’s this attention to detail that our customers and their families rely on, and we never forget that.
8. What are you most proud of in your business?
We’re very proud of our carers. All of our staff are amazing. The training we provide is second to none.
I would absolutely let any of our staff look after my own parents – that is my own personal measure of trust and professionalism.
We’ve just had our annual audit, which is externally assessed, and our results were:
100% accurate staff files
100% accurate office files
97% accurate customer files – which is exceptionally high given customer files change on a daily basis!
Even our administrative staff are trained in specialist skills like meds training, manual handling or catheter training. It means everyone is very up-to-date and the quality of the care we can offer is exceptional.
Jess Phillips our manager is amazing. She sees the best in everyone and will work with people to bring out their best. Sai is great to work for too. Our culture of care extends beyond our customers to their families too, we regularly have social events that everyone is invited to and it’s that sense of community that really makes us different.
We’re also there for our staff. This is difficult work and can be emotionally challenging. We are always here for tea and chat to support staff through difficult days.
9. If there was one piece of advice you wish you’d had been given when you opened your business what would it be?
I think if I were to give a new recruit some advice it would be: Volunteer as much as you can – the only way of learning to be a carer is by doing the job. Ask as many questions as you need to. Ask for extra training if you want it. If this is your vocation you need to put yourself out there – we are always willing to help people develop their careers. Other than that – work hard and don’t gossip!
10. The biggest change you’ve seen in your business or your business sector since you started?
I think rules and regulations! It’s a constant battle against bureaucracy. Of course, sometimes red tape is a good thing – it keeps everyone from becoming complacent and ensures high standards, but increasingly there are hoops to jump through for example the administrative protocols required by the Adult Social Care system. Anything that eats into the time we would rather be giving to those we’re caring for can be a source of frustration.