A New Home in Shanghai
Until very recently, Matthew Cox was Operations Manager at Barchester Healthcare - which runs more than 200 purpose-built care homes across the UK and seven private hospitals in the North East of England. His daily commute was from St Neots, where he lives, to London and back.
One morning in March, he got on the train as usual - and received a text from an old colleague. She thought maybe he needed a change. Something radical. Something different. She'd seen something which might interest him - an advert posted online by Health and Social Care Jobs Ltd. The rest of that train journey proved to be life-changing. By the time he was racing through - he thinks, probably Stevenage - he had applied for a new position in China.
He got the job and is now in Shanghai, tasked with setting up and running the country’s first ever memory clinic and dementia care village. It’s an initiative by Heythorp Healthcare - one of only a handful of companies beginning to deliver international-standard care services in the country. Speaking before he set off, 40-year-old Matthew said he had two priorities. First, he had to rush to finish getting his private pilot’s licence before he left. Second, he had to find somewhere to live as soon as he arrived; ’I’ve got a few contacts over there, but I’m a bit of an explorer and I like meeting people so I’m not too worried. I just see it as a new adventure.’ He has a sense of self-assurance, which is in itself reassuring.
It’s Matthew’s first visit to China, but he is clear about his mission; ‘I’m running a care home, but it’s more than that. I see myself as embarking on a journey of culture change in China.’ And culture change is an understatement. According to Heythorp, Chinese institutional care is a good thirty years behind ours. Dementia diagnosis is not commonplace, even though an estimated 20 million people are affected. The current approach seems to be old school, to say the least. It’s seen as an age-related condition, which requires a patient to be confined to an institution, in some cases tied to the bed and administered drugs.
The new centre is a pilot. If it’s successful, Heythorp will roll it out elsewhere in the country. Managing Director Dai Dyfed Evans says, ‘as a result of China’s rapidly growing population, the number of people with dementia is set, over the next 20 years, to double. Better understanding, recognition, diagnosis of, and support for, those with all types of dementia are therefore critical to addressing the health and social care challenges that this trend presents.’
Heythorp will offer options ranging from education and support to full residential care, but it’s not open to all. The company is hoping eventually to obtain a licence for public funding. For now, individuals will have to pay for it themselves.
Matthew says he's been described before as wearing his heart on his sleeve; someone who brings a sprinkle of magic dust. So how much is he looking forward to his new future? ‘A hundred per cent’. He has no doubt in his eyes. Is he anxious at all? ‘Yes, definitely'.
He’s not the only one being philosophical. Before he accepted the position, he discussed the idea with his 20-year old son, Nathan, who was himself expecting the arrival of his new baby just before the Shanghai job was due to start. But Nathan simply looked at him in the eye and replied ‘Dad, just do it’.
Care Talk will be checking in with Matthew again, once he’s settled in Shanghai, to see how he’s getting on. Watch this space!