My take on ‘Help’, the Channel 4 drama by Jack Thorne about a Covid outbreak in a care home (Spoiler alert).
It is incredibly welcome that the messages ‘care homes don’t count’ and ‘no one is coming’ were voiced through ‘Help’. Just as important was showing how committed carers can be. Almost without exception, the stories presented about care homes in the media are the horrors of poor care. Why is that? Why is the NHS always the hero, and social care the villain? Four reasons make a significant contribution:
- We don’t want to confront aging and the unhappy challenges that will face us, particularly as they can’t be fixed. In contrast, we tell ourselves that hospitals will restore us to good health.
- We feel guilty for outsourcing the care of those we love. In reality, properly funded care by well-trained professionals is usually the best option for people needing care. We think that hospital care is different as it requires doctors and other professionals. However, caring also requires highly specialised skills deployed by staff who are called to the caring professions.
- Social care provision is usually operated for profit. The public seem to be suspicious of this. They generally don’t realise that GP practices are generally profit-making businesses.
- Poor care makes a good story.
It was refreshing, then, to see a care home provider who seemed to care. Well done, Mr Thorne, for showing how providers tried to do the right thing and help to free up beds by taking hospital discharges, only for them to bring Covid into the home. Bravo for pointing out how they were provided with neither the tests nor the PPE that they needed to have any chance of controlling the virus. Thank you for showing the initiative and hard work providers took in sourcing their own PPE.
As to the night when Sarah was alone in the care home, it is welcome that the public were given a glimpse into what the Covid crisis was really like on the ground; it was a battlefield. In the film, Sarah had interactions with three residents that night. The reality would have been far, far worse. With staff shortages and no agency availability, carers may have been looking after far more residents on night shifts, many suffering or dying from Covid.
Thorne should be applauded, therefore, for calling out the preposterous claim that a protective ring was placed around care homes.
If he had wanted an appropriate final act, Thorne may have been interested in some of my clients who, after facing the horror of outbreaks, sometimes caused by hospitals discharges, and often with no support from any other agencies (‘no one’s coming’), they then found themselves the subject of Safeguarding Adults Reviews as though it was the care homes’ fault. You couldn’t make it up. But then again, you don’t have to.
Instead, Mr Thorne wrote a fanciful final act in which Sarah abducts Tony from the care home after he is prescribed tranquilisers to prevent him from absconding. Thorne reverts to tired tropes of providers doing the easiest thing, rather than the best thing. On a dramatic level, it doesn’t work at all and is inconsistent with the rest of the film, its core themes and the owner’s character as established to that point.
Why did Thorne do it then? See point 4 above: Thorne chose narrative over authenticity and the vital themes he was trying to portray. He thought it would make a good story. As well as the final act falling flat and rightly being panned by some critics, it was a wasted opportunity to laud care homes as heroes as they should be.
So thank you, Jack Thorne, for ‘Help’, or at least for most of it.