‘Have a Drink or Use the Loo’: The Scandal of 15 Minute Care Visits

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A disability charity has published a report revealing more than 60% of Local Authorities operate care visits to elderly and disabled people lasting no longer than 15 minutes. Clare Pelham, chief executive of Leonard Cheshire Disability, called for care visits to be at least 30 minutes long. “Every day, many disabled and older people in the UK receive personal care, it is disgraceful to force disabled people to choose whether to go thirsty or to go to the toilet by providing care visits as short as 15 minutes long,”.  This is yet another example of elderly and disabled people abandoned by a government and care industry prioritising profit over people.

The Disgraceful Death of Gloria Foster

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In February this year, 81 year old Gloria Foster suffered a lonely and excruciating death from starvation and thirst having been left without her essential care for nine days.  Gloria Foster was a former secretary who required four daily care visits to take care of her most basic needs after she was left debilitated by stroke. She had no children and her husband had died thirty years previously. The company responsible for her care, Carefirst24 had been raided by the UK Border Agency after allegedly employing illegal immigrants and the local Surrey Council assured all current clients would be taken care of. However, Gloria was found starved, dehydrated, with severe bed sores and a faint pulse after being left for over a week stranded in her home unable to move. One can only imagine the fear and desperation one might endure alone, immobile, unable to reach a phone to call for help, use the bathroom, get to food or water for over a week. Speaking to the Sutton Guardian, her friend Ann Penston said that the care from CareFirst24, who had looked after Mrs Foster for several years prior to the raid, had always been of the highest standard. One cannot help but see the wave of unnecessary suffering unleashed by this raid. Prior the raid, Mrs Foster had been cared for, several people had been gainfully employed, and the company had been paying its taxes. After the raid, the company will face closure, the former employees now unemployed and facing possible deportation or likely to disappear out of the system, and Mrs Foster has suffered a slow and painful death feeling lost and alone. Who exactly won?

Yet this terrifying story is just one among many as our government abandons a generation of elderly people to the whims of market forces.

‘The Market’ Doesn’t Care

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With the population of elderly people rising as more of us are lucky enough to make it to old age, managing down the costs of care home places and in home care, whilst ensuring the highest standards of care should be a central policy of any government. However, the coalition policies seem to be achieving quite the opposite aim.

In the UK today over 90% of all care home provision (up from 61% in 1990) to elderly people is in the independent/private sector after the public sector was encouraged to outsource provision in an effort to cut costs. The same period has seen an astronomical rise is the cost of care home places.

Today, the average cost of a single room in a care home has risen to over £27,000 a year. This is higher than the average UK annual wage (£26,000) and more than double the average annual pension income of £13,208. In fact since 2011, care home costs have risen at twice the rate of inflation, whilst standards of care have slipped.

This has meant elderly people who had paid for their homes in the hopes of leaving an asset for their families, have had to sell their homes simply to have their most basic care needs met for the final years of their lives. It is estimated that 40,000 elderly people a year are selling their homes for just this purpose, in aims to cover the average £100,000 care home costs to cover the final years of their lives. Whilst the coalition plan to implement a £75,000 cap in the contributions a person makes to their care home costs, a) they have stalled the policy until after the next election and b) it won’t include accommodation costs, which are the bulk of the issue. This is no help at all.

One might expect that for these breathtaking sums we might have the finest care home in the world. Yet, last year, the regulatory body for the UKs care homes The Care Quality Commission (CQC) published a damning report that showed that more than half of all elderly and people with disabilities in care homes were being denied basic care.

The report showed that people suffering incontinence were waiting more than two weeks for a consultation on their condition in more than 40% of care homes for the elderly surveyed. One might think perhaps this was some failing, but this was classed as success; 40% of the care homes surveyed set themselves a target of 90 days (that’s three months!), to make such a basic check up for a resident.

More worrying is that the data used for the study only covers 2010, so does not even take into account the sweeping cuts implemented since. This is the sorry state of care the elderly lived in prior to the ideological austerity we have seen sweeping the UKs public services. Things did get worse; over 40 care homes were closed down by the Care Quality Commission last year for providing sub standard care including: verbal & physical abuse of patients, medicines not being managed safely, poor sanitary conditions and a lack of medical and nursing care.

Cuts, Cuts and More Cuts

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In the same week that Mrs Foster lay dying as a result of failures in the care system, Birmingham City Council announced crushing half a million pound a year cuts of provision of home care for those like her. Birmingham is not alone. The Mayor of Bristol approved the Council’s decision to close eight of its eleven council run care homes last month. This week two further closures were announced in Peterborough. In fact the same wave of closures is taking place in Haringey, Anglesey, Maldon, Argyle & Bute, Ilkeston, Derby, and many other towns and cities up and down the country as austerity drives council’s to cut costs despite growing need.

Meanwhile, the private sector is doing a terrible job of catering for the care of elderly and disabled people too. Infact, there has been an overall drop in care homes places of more than 4% since the Coalition took office, that means a little under one in every twenty care homes in the UK has closed. Most of this has happened quietly, but there have been notable large scale closures such as large care home companies such as Southern Cross going into insolvency. This has largely been blamed in the failure of local councils to afford the rises in the costs of care brought about by high property rents and other increased costs.

However, surely the bigger problem is that this important service was ever abandoned to the whims of these market forces at all. If we built and owned the care homes, changes in rents would make no impact on care costs. If we properly integrated the care of elderly people into our state social care system, we would not need to meet the rising prices of external providers trying to make ever increasing profits. If the care of elderly people was a matter for all of us, under the responsibility of government we could better hold people to account for their failures. Instead we have abandoned our elderly people to the whims of market forces; they suffer the indignity of not having their most basic care needs met and have to sell their homes for the privilege.

There is a crisis in the care of our elderly and disabled people. Home care and care home costs are rising, whilst government support and standards of care are falling. So while the bankers who bankrupted Britain pop the champagne corks as bonus season begins, elderly and disabled people across Britain face an unnecessary deprivation to pay the bill.

The Abandoned Elderly Need You

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As with so much of what is happening now, the bottom line is we need to become more active and involved citizens. Yes, many of us were raised to ‘not do politics’ and we all have things going on in our lives. However, these excuses are going to pale into insignificance in the face of the family of a Gloria Foster or the next victim. Why did we stay silent when a generation of elderly and disabled people was condemned to wait out their days impoverished and uncared for?

The biggest difference you can make is to get involved. Check by performing a simple web search if there are plans to close care homes or shorten care visits in your area and petition your local government. Join those voices of dissent. Follow organisations like Age UK and Leonard Cheshire Disability, and support their campaigns to make a difference. Volunteer to read, talk to or otherwise entertain people at your local care home.  Befriend neighbours and help with shopping or other activities. You could make a difference in someone’s life for as little as an hour of your time once a week or month. Do anything, but for goodness’ sake do something.

Campaigns

Campaign to End Loneliness – an inspirational idea to create connections between the generations and put an end to loneliness in old age.

Compassion In Care – seeks to ensure that care is compassionate across the country, check out their website to see how you can support.

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7 thoughts on “‘Have a Drink or Use the Loo’: The Scandal of 15 Minute Care Visits

  1. Pingback: Frontline Friday 11th October: Our favourite frontline blogs this week

  2. The only issue I have with this is the stuff about people having to sell their house to pay for care, rather than leave their children an ‘asset’. I do hope that my home appreciates in value so that I can sell it, but to ensure care, not to ‘leave an asset’ for my kids.

    But agree, much better to keep people in their homes where possible.

  3. I agree totally with John. In 2011, I was a care worker until I started Uni and I worked for an agency. While there were 15 minute calls, they were for welfare checks and meds prompts only. The vast majority of calls are 30 minutes+.

    There were repeated mistakes made by the office staff that the carers were blamed for. Carers stay if they are needed. We repeatedly went without breaks (In fact I don’t remember having a single lunch break the whole time I was there. I was told to buy a sandwich and eat it while driving between service users) and we finished a lot later than we should have done due to the mistakes of the office staff. If we stayed later with a service user, then it meant we arrived late at the next call. We were on a zero hours contract and not paid for travelling between service users. Due to the delays, or office staff thinking we can do a 30 minute journey in 10 minutes, I would often start at 7am and finish at 11.30pm, with no breaks.

    I have seen carers go above and beyond the call of duty, ensure that service users had their medication by collecting it from the pharmacy themselves in their own time, spend their own money (we were on minimum wage) to ensure service users had basics like bread and milk. I have seen them go in their own time to carry out welfare checks because they were worried. We were all very committed and in my case, I caused a severe deterioration of my own disability. Yet we were always blamed for everything. I think society should be looking harder at care agencies and social workers in my opinion.

    There was a high turn over of staff, not because we weren’t committed, but because we were worked into the ground and our bodies gave out. During the summer, I was expected to work all day, every day, 7 days a week. When I said I wanted one day off a week, they acted as if I was mad. The care co-ordinator not once, but twice, asked me to work hours that were illegal (7am – 9pm, followed by a waking night shift 9pm to 7am, meaning I would have been awake and working for 24 hours and I was then expected to drive home). When I said I couldn’t do it, she said. “Don’t you want to?” I said it wasn’t a question of not wanting to, it was illegal as tired carers make mistakes. Not only did she ask again a month later, but asked at least another 2 carers if they would do the same, even though she was told it was illegal.

    Running the care of the elderly and disabled as a profit making enterprise is immoral. But the carers do not benefit at all. If we had to stay longer than our allotted time, we weren’t paid for it. On Bank Holidays, Social Services paid the Agency Double Time for all care calls. They paid us single time. I can’t believe any carer would seriously make a service user choose between having a drink or going to the toilet. They would just not get paid to do both. Fortunately the situation has changed in my local authority as I know someone who deals with care contracts and I kicked off. Now carers are paid for an entire shift, not just for the time they are in a service user’s house. After all, they are not travelling between service users for their own benefit. Sometimes we didn’t even have time to go to the toilet. Hopefully this has resulted in a better situation for both carers and service users. And society in general can stop blaming carers who are doing their best in an impossible situation instead of blaming those who are really responsible.

    • Having worked in the care sector I can attest to both your statements. It is outrageous that carers are penalised through performance reviews, and pay to offer a decent standard of care. As you rightly say, this is the inevitable and dangerous consequence of handing over the care services to the private sector, and them being overseen by governments who believe that privatisation of such services is a good and proper thing to do. Carers are alreaday paid poverty wages, with limited terms and conditions, zero hours contracts and not even paid the fuel or time between care visits – or for staying longer than the prescripted visit time. The only winners here are the profiteers.

  4. Being a suspicious fellow I am noticing that there seems to be a well thought out framework behind all of this. It is not the elderly, the disabled, the poor, the sick, the immigrants or even the criminals (that they are manufacturing e.g. making it illegal to be homeless) that are being treated badly or even inhumanely. This is a well planned mass murder campaign. Some might call it genocide. Bear in mind that the concentration camps started off as jolly holiday camps for the poor and evolved or devolved from there. Bayer were manufacturing and stock piling Zyclon-B long before the gas chambers and railway infrastructure were in place. Some call this ‘step politics’. e.g. First tell people that their housing benefit will be paid directly to them and they can pay it to the landlord. Then introduce the under-occupancy penalty of 14% for a spare room. Now it is a legal issue between the landlord and the claimant even if the landlord is the council! I don’t know the details but I am sure this is all well planned and it is GENOCIDE. Iain Duncan Smith well knows his part which is why he refuses to attend the obligatory review, release or even collect, death rate figures. As with global warming and your car usage please don’t get distracted by helping charities to help old people (that is and always has been perfectly fine) because the government are very pleased when everyone is trying to put out their firestorm by pissing on the bonfires. This government and these policies have to be opposed with serious political action. Personally I feel the politicians in this government should be tried for genocide.

  5. While it is true, that Councils pay care providers for visits based on 15 minute increments, the overwhelming majority of we carers, in my view, do not time their visits. If it takes me half an hour to toilet Mrs Smith and make her a cup of tea, so be it. We carers do not carry stopwatches. We go without breaks to ensure people are attended to adequately, at least they do in the care schemes I work in.

    I do agree, wholeheartedly, that the profit motive is anathema to decent care provision.

    • Carers have been exploited like this for a long time. It shocked me to discover you have to pay your own petrol between jobs out of your own wages. My grandma had such a lovely set of carers, she used to be a carer herself before getting ill.

      We are all getting older and I will definitely get more active and do what I can about this issue.

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