UNISON, the UK’s leading public sector union, today slammed private homecare companies for exploiting staff and leaving elderly people without the care and support they need.
Private care companies routinely employ staff on zero hours contracts, that often means huge swings in paid hours for staff. By refusing to pay for travel time between visits, many home carers are effectively paid below the minimum wage.
They are not offered even basic training, including how to administer medicines, despite having to give them out as a part of their work.
Some companies book back-to-back calls with no travel time at all. This forces carers to shave minutes off already packed care slots, and means elderly people are short-changed, missing out on vital support.
Out of their low wages, many care workers have to pay for their own transport, mobile phones and uniforms – all essential to do the job.
And as I sit here writing this, You & Yours on BBC Radio 4 is discussing the very same problems. With continuing talk of reverse auctions, call cramming, lousy training. “There’s a gap between what’s in the Standards and what’s actually happening” are very true words that I’ve just heard from Helga Pile, UNISON’S from National Officer for Social Services.
And yet there is another contributor Colin Angel, Head of Policy & Communications at UK Homecare Association, who almost denies there is a problem and suggests that everything is regulated by the Care Quality Commission. He’s a provider of domiciliary care, of course.
An anonymous contributor to the programme became so disillusioned, exasperated and thoroughly fed up with the careless carefree homecare that she was able to access for her 94 year old mother with dementia that she placed her mother into a care home. I will keep my fingers crossed and hope that she has been able to find a genuinely careful and caring care home. The scenes she described are not a one-off. The cultural differences between cared for and caregiver resulted in extremely odd combinations of food being served. Smoked haddock and gravy! Communication made impossible because of the lack of English in the caregiver. Problems with time schedules.
Money, money, money! That’s what far too many care providers care about. With their shares in the company, enormous salaries, bonuses and so on, it’s not likely they would consider working for £5.80 per hour (a measly 5p above the minimum wage), a mileage rate of 17p per mile and on a zero hours contract. So why are they prepared to exploit their staff and the very people they purport to care for?
But nobody really cares about those on the receiving end of careless carefree care – who are, in the main, elderly people without the inner resources to question it all. The vulnerable elderly people in need of care often have elderly relatives trying to do their best for them, so their elderly supporters are often also challenged.
Pamela Wells called on care homes to up their game, when her own report was published last week.
Caroline Bernard – Counsel & Care’s Policy and Communication’s Manager – suggested that the homecare companies ought to be monitoring the work of their staff. Cultural differences were again discussed, and the need for dementia training. For the second time Paul Burstow Minister of State for Care Services declined to appear on the programme and said that everyone ‘should’ receive a good standard of care and that many agencies are rated good or above.
Should receive a good standard of care – yes, of course they should.
But the fact is, Mr Burstow, that it is not a reality in many cases.
My own relative had something like 14 different homecare workers visiting her in any one week; she came to resent that. They mostly had a very poor command of English which was a huge problem for an elderly person with dementia. They filled in the ‘daily contact’ record book with many untruths, giving the impression they had understood and carried out the task required of them when that was far from the case. (That must be one ability they are trained for!) Meals were not prepared – “she said she’d already eaten”. She may well have said that, but she has dementia and she has diabetes too.
Medications were incorrectly ‘prompted’, at the wrong time of day, or on an empty stomach. Or just left on the table in a plastic pot – “for you to take later”. Result: my relative stored those meds up. Who would have carried the responsibility if she had taken them all in one go?
I complained about the appalling homecare service. I asked for continuity of care worker – the Manager told me that the staff preferred to have maximum variety in their work. The Manager suggested to me that I should not complain “because some of the workers are now refusing to visit”. That’s what I call mis-management. Tail wagging dog?
Paul Burstow, I welcomed your appointment recently. I look forward to being able to continue to welcome your appointment. But only if you understand the numerous meanings of TLC. Not just tender loving care. Work out your own permutations, Mr Burstow. A few suggestions for you to play with: training; care; trustworthy; lasting; careful; loyal; compassion; tested; long-lasting; life; controlled; considerate; … … … over to you!