THE GMB, the union for home care workers, commented on the ‘Close to Home Report – An inquiry into older people and human rights in home care’, from the Equality and Human Right Commission.
The report pointed to examples of:
• Older people not being given enough support to eat and drink
• Neglect, such as a case when a woman was left stuck on the toilet because staff were too busy
• Financial abuse, including money being systematically stolen over a period of time
• Chronic disregard for privacy and dignity, such as leaving people unwashed and putting them to bed in the afternoon
• Patronising behaviour, with cases highlighted including staff talking on mobile phones while they tended to clients
• Physical abuse involving pushing and rough handling.
The commission said such problems could be said to be in breach of various parts of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The GMB welcomed the report, but insisted that privatisation is ‘the root cause of the systemic problems it identifies’.
Justin Bowden, GMB National Officer said: ‘GMB welcome and agree with the finding that the underlying causes of bad practices in home care are largely due to systemic problems rather than the fault of individual care workers.
‘GMB agree that much of commissioning focuses on price and that the “one size fits all” model does not work.
‘There is a lack of investment in care workers. Their low pay and status are in sharp contrast to the level of responsibility, trust and skills they require to provide quality home care in elderly people’s homes.
‘However, GMB is shocked that the report does not recognise the root cause of the systemic problems it identifies. This is that making money, which is the main aim of the private sector care companies, is not compatible with providing the decent level of care to the elderly which is paid for by public funds.
‘The Commission does not recognise that home care is the latest sector to attract the interest of private equity.
‘Private equity owned AA has recently taken over Nestor Healthcare Group Ltd and Allied Healthcare Group home care companies.
‘AA has demonstrated that making vast profits for the multi-millionaire elite is its number one objective.
‘GMB can point to two examples where the private sector cut corners as my colleague from Northern Ireland sets out below and these are not untypical.
‘Another problem that the Commission does not comment on is the growth of “personalisation”.
‘This is where local authorities hand over funds to families to buy home care for their relatives.
‘Often these families do not have the expertise necessary to stop them and their relatives being ripped off.
‘The recommendations in the report, while welcome, will not address any of these root causes of the problem which led to so many difficulties in the care home sector like for example Southern Cross.
‘A really basic question has to be asked here. Is providing care and making money compatible?
‘When the home care service was provided directly by local councils paying proper levels of pay and conditions there was far less labour turnover and much more continuity of care and less of the one-size-fits-all.
‘The problems identified by the Commission did not exist. Common sense suggests that we return to the system that worked.’
Eamonn Coy, GMB Senior Organiser in Northern Ireland added: ‘Careforce is a subsidiary of the Mears Group PLC. They are responsible for delivering home care in a number of predominantly rural areas of Northern Ireland.
‘The Chairman of the group was Bob Holt and their HR Manager for Northern Ireland was Bernadette Walsh who incidentally was based in the Republic of Ireland.
‘At the beginning of 2010 a number of the staff who deliver home care contacted GMB requesting help.
‘These staff were paid below the statutory minimum rate of pay and they were employed on zero hours contracts.
‘They received work on a totally ad hoc basis never knowing from one day to the next whether or not they would have any work and they had no opportunity to have any continuity in respect of the elderly whom they care for.
‘The employer refused to pay any travel expenses and also refused to pay the cost of their usage of their own personal mobile phones.
‘Staff received almost zero training and they believed they are simply a means to an end for the company to earn money at their expense but they are neither trained nor encouraged to deliver any reasonable standard of home care.
‘Careforce was a satellite operation in Northern Ireland with very poor managerial back-up and when it came to GMB attempts to deal with industrial relations matters, we found their HR Manager was based in Dublin; someone who was totally aggressive and had absolutely no interest in the needs of care staff.
‘Staff worked under a regime of fear and uncertainty around their livelihoods.
‘They were only able to deliver the most basic levels of support because of a lack of training and were never allocated enough time to do the job properly.
‘They were expected to cover a whole range of duties.
‘Home helps assist with cooking, shopping, light housework, help with getting up and dressed, help with shaving, washing or bathing, help doing the laundry, feeding the pets, collecting prescriptions, medication, continence care and day and night sits.
‘They also provide specialist care – for example support for people living with dementia.
‘I managed to have one meeting with the Chairman of Careforce in 2010 along with their HR Manager.
‘They were completely unwilling to address any of the critical underlying problems of staff and their ability to deliver necessary standards of care, and the Chairman stated that on a number of occasions, they were in it to make a profit and he would best decide what did or didn’t need doing despite having no direct involvement.
‘Peacehaven is a small operator based in Kilkeel in Northern Ireland, employing a small number of home care staff delivering care to the elderly in rural areas around the Kilkeel and Newcastle areas.
‘Staff receive little or no training.
‘They are paid on or below the statutory minimum wage and they suffer abuse from their employer on a daily basis.
‘By way of example, this employer attempted to discipline two members of the home care staff because they had allegedly failed to turn up on time when caring for a particular client.
‘Upon investigation GMB, together with the care staff, identified a completely bizarre situation whereby rotas were constructed in such a way as there was no travel time whatsoever allowed between jobs.
‘Effectively the carer finished work with a client, for example, at midday and they were expected to be with their next client three or four miles away, at the same time.
‘Even though GMB contested this flawed way of working, the employer effectively told us it was not the GMB’s business and they would continue to do what suited “their” interest best.
‘Staff were only allocated 30 minutes to care for elderly vulnerable people and for the greater part they would have to leave in the knowledge that they would have only had a minimum impact on the overall care that would have been required in respect of any elderly person.
‘The attitude of these employers and the conditions of employment are reminiscent of conditions in the 1930s and will be the norm in the future unless policy makers get a grip now as GMB advocate.’