27 Mar 2014

Poor reviews: social care website highlights problems

It is like a trip advisor site for the care industry.  The GoodCare Guide site, where people who use or work within care homes or for care agencies can post their reviews.

And after evaluating 4,000 of those most recent reviews, the guide found that 31 per cent of people believed homecare agencies provide a poor or bad level of care and 33 per cent provided poor or bad value for money.

It is an indictment of an industry already under the spotlight.

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Andy Major, director of the guide, told Channel 4 News that the reasons for citing bad service came down to four key areas: “Lack of continuity, late calls, insufficiently experienced staff and little opportunity for feedback.”

And, indeed, when we visited one of the people who had posted on the site, those were exactly the complaints she was making about the home care her father had received.

Lesley Hatcher’s father Peter has dementia and heart problems.  He is on warfarin to help thin his blood.  Without it he is susceptible to strokes.

Yet Ms Hatcher, from Essex, discovered care workers were not coming the four times a day they were being paid for; they were not giving him the warfarin properly; they were not doing his laundry, so one day he was left without any clean trousers.  On one occasion he was left for four days without a shower.

The family are what is called self-funding.  That is they receive no local authority help.  They paid the Bluebird Care agency, Chelmsford in Essex, £16 an hour.

Ms Hatcher told us that she felt so guilty.  “My dad kept saying to me no one’s been, but because he’s ill I took no notice and I feel really guilty about the fact I didn’t believe him,” she said.

“I thought he’d forgotten because of his dementia. I trusted them too quickly… I had trust in these so-called caring people and they didn’t care for my dad.”

Bluebird Care said in a statement that they operate to a very high standard, delivering over 17,000 care visits every day but that one complaint was a complaint too many.

“We are absolutely committed to getting to the bottom of any allegations of poor care.  We are sorry if there are any instances we have fallen short of our high standards.”

The fact is, barely a week goes by now without a report on the dire state of the care industry – especially for the elderly but often, too, for those with disabilities.

The Nuffield Trust and the Health Foundation revealed earlier this week that a quarter of a million older people have lost their state funded home care help in the past four years.

Another recent report claimed that people with dementia being cared for at home might see as many as 40 different care workers.

And the workers themselves have been revealed to be under huge pressure: on zero-hour contracts, paid the minimum wage, made to pay their own petrol costs, and given only 15 minutes a visit in some cases.

Even the Government admits it is a system in crisis as the elderly population grows and NHS and local authority finances diminish.

Norman Lamb, the Care Minister, says the tightening of criteria for care from councils has been happening over the past decade and it is continuing.

“So through the care bill we have been taking through parliament we are introducing a national eligibility criteria so we end the postcode lottery, but we have to do something much more fundamental.”

Mr Lamb said they had put £3.8bn into the fund to integrate NHS and social care, but by the end of this year £2.7bn will have been axed from English councils’ budgets for adult social care over the past three years.

Age UK describes it as a crisis.  Caroline Abrahams, the charity director, said sevices had been stripped to the bone.

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