Home care ‘scandal’ is putting lives at risk

Concerns have been raised about front-line care workers EMN-150223-102033001
Concerns have been raised about front-line care workers EMN-150223-102033001

The lives of vulnerable people across Lincolnshire are being put at risk because of a failing system of care, a leading county councillor has claimed.

Colin Mair, the UKIP leader on Lincolnshire County Council, has revealed many front-line care workers do not have formal qualifications.

He says it is frightening some workers “move straight from the dole queue” to looking after the most vulnerable members of society - including the elderly and mentally ill - often without specialist training.

Coun Mair, who represents the Tattershall Castle ward, stressed he was not blaming care workers who, he claims, are paid less than the minimum wage.

He described the home care system across the country as a “national scandal” and called for more investment.

In Lincolnshire, home care services are ‘out-sourced’ by the County Council to various companies.

Coun Mair said he had raised the issue of boosting low pay and had also asked whether the County Council could start directly employing care workers again.

However, he said he had been told both requests were unsustainable, because of funding issues.

Coun Mair said: “The subject of domiciliary care for older people, or lack of care, is high on the agenda at the County Council.

“At present, there are 74 suppliers of domiciliary care, or home care, in Lincolnshire.

“Care is ‘spot ‘purchased by a team at LCC and there is a tremendously complicated system where several supplying companies can be visiting one street at the same time.

“A typical care worker will have to use their own vehicle and supply their own fuel.

“They are only paid, at minimum wage, for the time spent with each client. This means that they can be driving for up to half an hour then only spend 15 minutes with a client.”

“As a result, a care worker is paid a lot less than minimum wage.

“LCC, when asked that wage rates be increased to a living wage, refer you to the Paul Burstow Report, saying that this report says the living wage is not sustainable.

“When asked if we can not go back to using people employed by LCC to supply care, they again say this is not sustainable, again meaning that it will cost too much.”

Coun Mair said it was hardly surprising that given the conditions of employment, there were “huge problems” recruiting and retaining staff, particularly in rural and coastal areas.

He admitted the County Council faced an impossible task, particularly after cuts in Central Government funding.

He added: “We have to supply 36,000 hours of care each week on a budget of £20 million. This is £10.68 per hour, including administration costs and profit for the sub-contractors.

“To increase pay by £2 per hour will add nearly £4 million to the cost in Lincolnshire alone. One of the most frightening things is that there is no bottom line standard for the quality of care, so that visits can be five minutes or even less with no guidance or enforcement as to how carers should actually care.

“It is a national scandal that is bound to lead to much suffering and death.

“At the same time, we send billions in aid to countries that don’t need it, without bothering to check how it is being used.”

Coun Mair said he knew of specific cases where vulnerable people were not receiving the adequate care.

He also pointed out his concerns come at a time when there are calls for hospital to release more patients into the home-care system - to free up desperately needed beds.

A Horncastle resident, who relies on carers to look after his elderly mother, said he was worried about the situation.

He added: “My mother’s main carer is very competent although it would help if she could spend more time with her.

“If the carer is not available, we seem to get anyone and they aren’t always very efficient.”

Coun Patricia Bradwell, Executive Councillor for Public Health said she disputed many of the claims.

She said the council was in the process of renegotiating contracts for the provision of home care but stressed it would spending even more money on the service this year.

She also stressed that all companies involved in providing home care were closely monitored by the Care Quality Commission and workers did receive the minimum wage.

She denied lives were being put at risk but admitted the service was stretched in rural areas.