County council counters union claims that homecare visits are too short

Lincolnshire County Council offices in Lincoln. EMN-150909-170439001
Lincolnshire County Council offices in Lincoln. EMN-150909-170439001

Lincolnshire County Council has come under criticism from Union bosses as one of the majority of authorities in the East Midlands to offer homecare visits taking as little as 15 minutes.

According to a report published by public services sector union, UNISON, in the East Midlands, 89 per cent of local authorities are, on occasions, limiting homecare visits for their elderly, ill and disabled residents to 15 minutes.

The report entitled Suffering Alone at Home is based on an online survey of 1,100 homecare workers and data obtained from a Freedom of Information request (FoI) to the 152 local authorities in England that commission social care visits.

UNISON claim their survey findings mirror those of the FoI request to local councils. In it, three quarters (74 per cent) of homecare workers who responded felt they did not have enough time to provide dignified care for the elderly and disabled people they visited and 61 per cent said visits of just a quarter of an hour meant they frequently had to rush the care of people who were over 90 years old.

Given the harsh financial climate that local authorities are operating in, UNISON fears the situation will only get worse.

UNISON said Lincolnshire County Council falls into the majority of councils in the East Midlands that allow 15 minute visits.

Glen Garrod, Director of Adult Social Services at Lincolnshire County Council, countered: “Our call durations to those needing home care are purely based on need – we assess and regularly reassess what is required for each visit. Care is delivered based on what the assessment requires and isn’t time limited. For example, we have many 30-minute calls to carry out whatever is needed, but on the flip side, someone who needs and expects nothing more than a check that they’ve taken their medication or to administer eye drops would require much less.

“We know that for some, this might be their only contact with people during the day and despite the demands of having a rapidly growing elderly population in Lincolnshire, our carers will always spend as much time as they can on a visit. Sometimes they pay multiple visits during the same day as well.”

The council is being permitted by the Government to increase its Council Tax demand by an extra two per cent specifically to help protect adult social care services.

UNISON says the 2015 nationwide survey findings show more than half homecare workers (57 per cent) have been asked to provide personal care in 15 minutes or less with an elderly person they have never met before.

The limited time allocated means the majority of workers (85 per cent) said they regularly didn’t have time for a conversation during some homecare visits. One third (32 per cent) said they have no time to address people’s personal hygiene needs such as washing, and a quarter (24 per cent) have no time to take people to the toilet.

Half (49 per cent) said a quarter of an hour wasn’t long enough to prepare a nutritional meal, and the same proportion said the shortness of the visit meant there was no time to assess any change in the person’s health.

UNISON said homecare workers found the limited time they are able to spend with each person distressing because many had physical or mental issues and conditions and that the isolation of some people meant it was important to be able to spend time in each person’s home.

UNISON General Secretary Dave Prentis said: “It is heartbreaking and distressing that many elderly and disabled people are not being cared for in a humane and dignified manner.

“Homecare workers are often the only face some people see all day, and they are a lifeline – only they can call for help and ensure that the housebound people they care for are fed, washed and well.

“Although the government is going to allow local authorities to raise council tax to fund social care, the crisis is so great that any extra cash will barely touch the sides. It will also be of little help to deprived areas – where the need for home care visits is greater.”

He said Ministers should dig deep to find the cash from Treasury coffers to provide dignified care for the elderly.