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Is sharing caring in the case of NHS CareRooms?

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At first glance the aesthetic is reminiscent of the universal interior design championed by image sharing apps and websites, with special thanks (and a wink) to Ikea. Edison light bulbs hanging down, bare, and exposed; stripped wood flooring, patterned bedding in shapes that are both geometric and figurative, (thought the two are mutually exclusive? Think again), and of course the token cheese plant to tie the entire setting in a comforting bow of familiarity and hegemony. But what initially looks like your bog standard AirBnB flat listing, is in fact CareRooms.

“Building a community that cares for your Mother/Father/Grandmother/Grandfather/Neighbour” Reads the typed GIF on the landing page of the new company. “We are working with the local health and care community to provide a safe, comfortable place for people to recuperate from hospital. To do this, we are transforming spare rooms and annexes into secure care spaces for patients who are waiting to be discharged.” The intro continues.

Not even a month has passed since Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt announced his shiny new and controversial venture to outsource NHS staff through an Uber-type app. Now, as first published by the Health Service Journal (HSJ), the NHS is looking to the AirBnB model of home sharing for a quick and tangible solution to its issues of bed space in hospitals. Co-founded by Dr. Harry Thirkettle and Paul Guadin, CareRooms is part of NHS England’s Clinical Entrepreneur Programme and has already partnered with Microsoft, the NHS and other big names in the healthcare sector.

Setting camp inside the canteen of Southend Hospital to recruit their early adaptor hosts, CareRooms are handing out flyers that “headline with a financial opener offering people the chance to earn up to £1,000 a month renting out a spare room to accommodate someone needing to recuperate from hospital” said a volunteer from Save Southend A&E campaign.

CareRooms are publicising their service incentive as both a way for hosts to make extra cash by utilising spare and empty rooms in their homes, and relieving pressure from the already overwhelmed and overflowing NHS wards that have seen bed blocking rise by 40%, resulting in approximately 8,000 lives lost a year. What the private company does is apply a semi logical idea, built to fill a hole in the system and drive up revenue by tapping into the desperation for beds in hospitals; a direct result of persistent cuts to the NHS. The safeguarding of patients in their most vulnerable state also comes as a worrying factor, particularly as abuse in care homes is being reported on a daily basis.

For £50 a night, and after undergoing heavy checks including interviews, credit checks and basic training in care, hosts can start making quick and 'easy' cash with “minimal impact and risk to your daily life.“ All one needs to care for another individual recovering from various medical issues and procedures, is, apparently, “a spare bedroom or annexe with easy access to a private bathroom.” A premise that sounds seemingly well intentioned at first, but that needs to be scrutinised to the minutest of details. Firstly, it’s alarming that the NHS has allowed for such extensive gaps in its public model to occur. But secondly, and perhaps more practically is the question of how can such crevices be patched and sealed before the NHS becomes reliant on private start ups with high stake venture capital investment for its most fundamental aspects?

Uber has created precarious jobs for thousands of its drivers, pay cuts and ‘convenient’ zero hour contracts. AirBnB generated fury and protest in Barcelona among other cities as it contributes to inflation of local rent prices and has lent itself to an entire economy of letting agents operating under faux personal accounts. And Deliveroo had protesters pitched in front of its London headquarters for days. The sharing economy revolutionised – and also helped to make profit for many – but it is equally guilty of its own exploitation due to its neoliberal ethos of exponential revenue growth models, birthed and nurtured inside the womb of Silicon Valley.

While fears of losing the invaluable institution of our NHS continue to circulate in our media, under the surface some of its most important aspects are already being signed off to private companies, masked under the facade of ‘socially benefiting and empowering’. It’s become clear – and continuing to reveal itself – that the share economies do not empower individuals but instead tap into an economy that otherwise is unreachable: our private homes and cars. Instead of investing in precarious private companies with self benefitting interests, the NHS should be putting its funds and efforts into expanding wards, increasing the number of beds and getting its employees the pay rise they so desperately deserve.

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Image by Lucy Spark
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