A Personal Critique of the Care Industry in the UK.
Firstly I must declare my interest in this subject, as the spouse of someone with severe mobility limitations, complex medical needs and the user of NHS sub contracted care workers. My husband qualified for Continuing fully funded NHS Health care at home in October 2009. Since this time I have been continually surprised and horrified at how broken the care system in the UK is. I have been left most of the time since that time to fend for myself as the system is so broken even for those that have a proven on going 24/7 medical need. Over the years we have been sent a 64year old female care-worker with advanced arthritis who thought she would just sit and be able to read a book on nights, a male care-worker with badly managed diabetes who could have gone into a coma any shift, care workers with so many social problems at home they could not concentrate at work, several care workers with horrendous personal hygiene, a care-worker who passed out with a massive heart attack looking panic attack whilst at work, care workers that did not understand how important time keeping and reliability are, others that were not able to comprehend the complex medical theory needed to look after someone with a spinal injury, the list is endless and the whole experience has severely dented our faith in the UK care system.
I am not writing this to knock those that work in the care industry. Many we have come across have been good people but just not in the right job. I also admit we are tough customers as we will not accept mediocrity and poor standards. I can not, as I know my Husband’s life and long term survival is at stake. I therefore write this paper to point out what seems to be going wrong and add suggestions as to what can be done better.
Assessment of Clients.
The system at present, and this may change due to the planned joining up of social and health care, is that a person is allocated a social worker. These people are supposed to advise the client and family if there is such as to any care help that is needed. The assessment will grade the help needed, as moderate, high or critical. This is then either funded by the client or part/full funded by the council. At this stage council OT’s usually become involved as well. Many people needing help at home need equipment to help them. The local council will have contracts with various care providers, one of which will be dispatched to provide the amount of care that the council will have allocated to the client. As many news stories have highlighted this allocation is in many cases is woefully inadequate, leading to people having to choose between the toilet or a drink, 15 minute calls etc. If you are in the top need brackets of needing care you should be advised to try and get an assessment by the NHS under the fully funded Continuous Health Care provisions. Many people with dementia have had big problems getting through this assessment as their need often seems to fall under social need rather than medical need, which I know dementia organisations are fighting against at the moment. We were quite lucky in that my husband’s condition had been subject to court precedent ruling so our path through this horrendous assessment system was pretty much preordained. To pass this assessment you have to prove a need in several medical nursing areas, mobility, continence, cognition, behaviour, medicine management, to name a few. Once you have passed this you are not home and dry, then the battle begins on how much cover you will be provided and at what quality. We ended up compromising on the spread of hours covered with me theoretically taking up the slack at weekends and evenings, but still we got issued with social care qualified level staff that were totally inappropriate for a complex care case. Getting nursing level qualified staff under this system is impossible unless there is a legal requirement to provide such as in ventilated cases. Again the NHS as their council counterparts tries to get away with the cheapest possible option, with very little attention paid to client need. We also found that the person we talked with at NHS in charge of our case, improved his career prospects with how much money he could shave off his budget, not the quality of service provided by his organisation. Once you qualify for NHS CHC you also lose your allocated social worker and have no one who is looking after your welfare and safety, the NHS allocated bod is a purse string holder and not interested in your welfare.
This has left me astonished that having demonstrated an on-going medical need we have been allocated just above the minimum wage care workers, who with the best will in the world , would not be care workers if they had the training & education to be something else. A demonic, downward spiralling, vicious circle. The system is indeed in crisis and now I will make some suggestions as to how to fix it.
Fixing The Quality of Care-Workers.
The care industry could learn a lot from the rail industry. This industry has people working in some very safety critical roles, some earning minimum type wages some earning a professional type wage. Let’s take the case of the recruitment of a train driver, a comparable safety related job, with unsociable hours, a specific set of skills to learn and a great deal of personal responsibility. The only real difference being their remuneration, society seems value the job of a train driver more than that of someone we entrust our loved ones too, how bizarre is that? To become a train driver you first have to pass a strict medical looking for drug, alcohol abuse, and general health failings. If only care companies did this for their employees, may be we would not have so many unhealthy smoking care workers in its ranks. Following on from the medical the potential driver then spends 2 days at an occupational psychometric testing centre, testing for concentration, learning ability, knowledge retention, quick reactions, personality, scenario testing and finally a one to one interview. Obviously not all of these types of tests would be appropriate for a care worker, but if the industry were to work with specialists in this area I am sure a set of tests could be devised to weed out unsuitable applicants. The trainee Drivers then go on theory of rail safety courses and of course on the job training. It seems to me that as long as potential care workers have a pulse can pass the criminal record checks many companies take them on. Until this stops and some professionalism is brought into the recruitment processes things will not change.
Stage 2: Training.
The training of care-workers does not seem to follow any recognised national standards and is left very much up to the private companies involved. This leads to a varying quality of standards, leaves care-workers without recognised qualifications and no clear career progression path. Until the training standards are modular , national and signed off by a recognised organisation such as the royal college of nursing or the like, variable standards in quality will remain.
Stage 3: Career Progression.
For as long as being a care-worker is seen as a little bit above a cleaner and a chasm below a nurse, recruiting professionally minded people especially men to this industry will continue to fail. Care workers must have a similar possible career progression to those in the nursing profession and cross over between the lines of progression must be possible. I would suggest that the lowest level should be a social care worker, senior care worker, medical care worker, senior medical care worker, assistant community / district nurse, community / district nurse. All with the appropriate level of training equivalent to their hospital counterparts in the nursing professions.
Summary & Conclusion.
People in government need to get to grips with this, the industry must change or we will continue to hear about appalling cases of abuse, and neglect. I would contend it is not the answer to further dumb down this industry sector making it the purview of charities and volunteers. This sector needs to improve the quality of its offering not devalue it further by implying that any Tom, Dick, Theresa or Harriet can do it. There is of course a place for volunteers and charities, they do indeed add a lot to the experiences of those that need social care, by providing auxiliary staff for care day centres, entertainment, education and the like.
Finally, I have deliberately steered away from discussing funding as I believe if we do not provide appropriate care for this generation that need care we have broken our contract with them. Many paid their dues all their working lives with the expectation that they would be cared for in later life. Now the government may need to renegotiate the contract with the current people of working age out there, if they need to they need to get on with and quickly as none of us are getting any younger you know.
Angela Cavill-Burch (MBA NEBOSH MIRO)