Friday 27 March 2015

Village Care and a lot of wise monkeys

Carmarthenshire County Council was back in the news again yesterday, with the BBC reporting on the claims of two whistleblowers that care workers employed by Village Care, ultimately a part of the Mitie Group, were being paid less than the minimum wage and that home care visits were being cut short because of the company's employment practices.

One of the women who spoke to the BBC earlier this week said that, as a supervisor, she had a duty of care to staff and their clients, even though that meant being paid just £1 an hour for helping out colleagues when she was on call.

Neither the company nor the council appears yet to have acknowledged their own duty of care. Mitie is conducting an investigation into itself, while the council's reaction was every bit as shoddy and dishonest as we have come to expect.

Anyone who has experienced home care of this kind will tell you that the biggest headache is carers not turning up or curtailing their visits.

This was confirmed by the whistleblower who spoke of having to deal with a constant stream of complaints from relatives and clients about missed or curtailed appointments.

A council spokesperson told the BBC that nobody had complained to the council, presumably to justify its inaction.

It is reasonable to expect that complaints would have been logged, and also that the council would contact clients and their relatives from time to time to find out if they were happy with the service.

Judging from the council's response, that does not appear to have been the case. Unlike the whistleblower, the council does not seem to have felt that it had a duty of care, and no monitoring of the service or the pay and conditions of care staff would appear to have been carried out while all of this was happening under its nose.

Neither would it appear that the council read a report from the care and social services inspectorate, CSSIW, which raised concerns about pay and conditions.

This not being a "good news story" (see the council's revised Press and Media Protocol), that was about all the council had to say. Nobody from County Hall was "available" to be interviewed. Not Mark James, Kevin Madge, Jake Morgan, the head of social services, nor Jane Tremlett (Executive Board member responsible for social care) nor either of Kevin Madge's two deputies, Pam Palmer and Tegwen Devichand.

Only two weeks ago, it will be remembered, Jane Tremlett was holding forth in the council chamber about how her efforts were being rewarded with less than the minimum wage, a statement which only holds water if she is putting in more than 90 hours a week into her job.

It remains to be seen whether councillors will be allowed to discuss this scandal when they next meet, but as a first step they should insist that the council's plans for yet more outsourcing of care should be put on hold.


Another aspect of outsourced social care which has not featured in this story is the quality of some of the staff used by private sector care companies.

Both of the women who spoke to the BBC seemed to be genuinely compassionate and caring individuals, but extremely low pay, lack of job security and other employment conditions mean that some of those who end up looking after the sick and vulnerable are not the kind of people most of us would feel comfortable about letting through the front door.

Meet "Mick", a 40-something refugee from London who for about a year lived just down the road from Cneifiwr. Mick is an alcoholic and a known drug user, and he could often be heard screaming and shouting abuse at his girlfriend of an evening.

The day after one particularly heavy session, I asked her if she was OK. Yes, she replied, and she went on to express hope that Mick was now getting himself back together, having landed a job as a carer. A few months later, Mick disappeared again and is now believed to be back in England.


Richard Powell said...

I'm sorry to read that employees of Village Homecare (NB correct name) may be subject to exploitation. They deserve much better than that. They visited my 92-year old mother three times a day for nearly a year in her house near Llanelli, never missing an appointment. Some of the timings of the visits were suboptimal, but apart from that the level of care was entirely satisfactory, and better than we had expected. Yes, Mum did have me as an advocate, but I never found it necessary to intervene. Perhaps the service is better in urban areas where journeys are shorter, than in more scattered rural areas? Incidentally the only role for the Council at this stage was in processing the care charges. These were surprisingly modest at £50 a week. We would happily have paid double that.

Anonymous said...

What I find worrying is the health & Safety issue of carers being 'forced' to travel at speeds they wouldn't normally do just to get to their destination on time. This puts added pressure on them and is dangerous for them and the public.