Whistle-stop care still puts vulnerable at risk

Most councils force staff to cut short the time spent with elderly people. Emily Dugan reports

Three-quarters of Britain's councils are still giving elderly and vulnerable people controversial "whistle-stop" home visits which the Government previously branded inhumane.

Speeded-up 15-minute care visits continue to be used by a majority of councils, figures given exclusively to The Independent on Sunday show. Experts said that the Government's failure to bring an end to the "cruel" practice was evidence that the social care system was "in crisis".

According to research by the union Unison, the fleeting time slots mean staff often have to leave patients before completing vital tasks, such as changing dressings, and have no time to reassure or chat to vulnerable people.

The Government's own White Paper last July said such brief care visits "risk stripping people of their dignity and jeopardising their human rights". Despite this, the figures suggest little has been done to halt them.

Labour's health spokesman, Andy Burnham, said: "On David Cameron's watch, council social care budgets have been cut to the bone. Older and disabled people are no longer getting the support they need to cope with everyday tasks. Whistle-stop visits are barely enough time to make a cup of tea, let alone exchange a meaningful word. We will never get the standards of care we need while social care remains a malnourished, minimum-wage business."

Freedom of Information requests by Unison show that 73 per cent of councils in England, Wales and Scotland still commission 15-minute care visits. A total of 160 councils responded. They were most commonly used in Scotland, where 88 per cent of councils commission them. In Wales it is 83 per cent, and 69 per cent in England.

Unison's Heather Wakefield said: "Our home-care system is in crisis. Every day, elderly and vulnerable people suffer because they are not getting the care they need. Fifteen-minute visits exemplify the inadequacy of the current care-on-the-cheap system. The Government has acknowledged the damage the visits can do, but it has failed to stop their use. In fact, drastic cuts to council budgets have only made matters worse. It is time to act and ban their use across the UK, and for the Government to end the scandal of the elderly care crisis in this country."

Care workers said they were "deeply concerned" they did not have time to talk to people in their care. The Time to Care report said this was especially worrying given that home carers can be the only source of social contact in an elderly person's day. One carer told researchers: "Fifteen-minute slots should be done away with – you cannot give any level of care in 15 minutes. Some of these people don't have any family and a care worker is the only person they see, but you have to practically run in and run out again."

Care workers say it is impossible to carry out the tasks that often have to be completed in 15 minutes – feeding, bathing, administering medicines and getting people up or into bed. People with dementia are said to find the rush of such a short visit particularly distressing. Staff who want to provide a better service and choose to stay beyond the allotted 15 minutes end up underpaid for their services and accused of not performing their job adequately. Though carers reported being told by their employers to leave once the 15 minutes were up, many choose not to.

Janet Morrison, chief executive of Independent Age, said: "We sympathise with councils working with reduced budgets, but options that inevitably sacrifice dignity and quality are clearly unacceptable."

Michelle Mitchell, Age UK director general, said: "This confirms once again that older people are being reduced to a tick-box list of tasks to be completed as quickly as possible. The funding pressures which result in tight visits have a devastating effect on the older people relying on these services"

A Department of Health spokesman said: "The Government is doing its part with once-in-a-generation changes to social care laws. But more needs to be done. We are also looking at whether the Chief Inspector should have a role in assuring that councils are performing their commissioning role effectively."

Case study: ‘In 15 minutes you can’t get to know someone, or make sure they’re OK ... the care firms don’t care, they get the profits’

Carole Brealey, 54 Carer, from Nottingham

"Fifteen minutes is a ridiculous amount of time to look after someone. You have to rush in and rush out and do all the paperwork, so you end up with about five minutes to do whatever is necessary. You can be rushed on a half-hour call, let alone a 15-minute one.

"I worked for a major care company until last year. I'd never do it again because the calls are so impersonal. I'm still a carer but I work for myself now and my shortest calls are 45 minutes.

I was on £6.40 an hour, so I'd get paid £1.60 for a 15-minute call that, in practice, could take up to an hour. It's just a bad service. If you've only got a couple of minutes after your paperwork you can't get to know someone, talk to them or make sure they're OK. It's ridiculous.

"The care companies don't care – they get all the profits. They would send you at a time that wasn't good for the patient and say 'go, whether they like it or not'."

'In 15 minutes you can't get to know someone, or make sure they're OK ... the care firms don't care, they get the profits'

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
News
Nick Clegg on the campaign trail in Glasgow on Wednesday; he says education is his top priority
peopleNick Clegg remains optimistic despite dismal Lib Dem poll ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Buttoned up: Ryan Reynolds with Helen Mirren in ‘Woman in Gold’
filmFor every box-office smash in his Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. Now he says it's time for a reboot
News
people
News
Actress Julianne Moore wins the Best Actress in a Leading Role Award for 'Still Alice' during the 87th Annual Academy Awards in Hollywood, California
people
Sport
Ross Barkley
footballPaul Scholes says it's time for the Everton playmaker to step up and seize the England No 10 shirt
News
'We will fix it': mice in the 1970s children’s programme Bagpuss
science
Life and Style
2 Karl Lagerfeld and Choupette
fashion
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Executive

    £18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Retail Buyer / Ecommerce Buyer

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working closely with the market...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - CAD Software Solutions Sales

    £20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A reputable company, famed for ...

    Ashdown Group: Client Accountant Team Manager - Reading

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group has been engaged by a highly resp...

    Day In a Page

    War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

    War with Isis

    Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
    Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

    A spring in your step?

    Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

    Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
    Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

    Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

    For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
    Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

    Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

    As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
    The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

    UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

    Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

    Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
    Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

    Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

    If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
    10 best compact cameras

    A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

    If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
    Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

    Paul Scholes column

    Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
    Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

    Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

    Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
    Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?