Service users’ safety and dignity are being put at risk due to council home care cuts, sector leaders have warned after a survey revealed service shortcomings.
The study by the United Kingdom Homecare Association showed clients were receiving shorter visits and losing access to services such as safety checks.
The survey of funding decisions found 82% of 111 UK councils and health and social care trusts had cut the visiting time allocated for at least some clients.
The average visit fell from 48 minutes to 38 as a result of cuts this year, while visits of 15 minutes to undertake personal care were “increasing rapidly” despite being widely discredited as poor practice.
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An examination of 50 individual cases supplied by providers found that that most service users who received safety check visits had seen this type of service reduced. The same applied to social contact visits, help with washing, bathing, continence issues and managing finances, cleaning, shopping and laundry.
“It’s an appalling picture,” said Gary FitzGerald, chief executive of Action on Elder Abuse. “Councils are failing in their duty of care to people. They are placing people at risk. This is unacceptable.”
Colin Angel, policy and campaigns director for the UKHCA, was concerned at the length of the visits. “Personal care is being shoehorned into visits as short as 15 minutes and the ability to do that in a dignified way to meet the user’s needs is challenging,” he said, adding that the reductions were increasing pressures on informal carers.
The report also found that three-quarters of councils had reduced the number of daily visits to clients. Experts are now warning that councils are leaving themselves open to legal challenges on safety grounds for users.
“What disturbs me is, where there are clear good practice implications, councils need to be careful,” said Nick Johnson, chief executive of the Social Care Association.
“I’ve heard that providers are contemplating taking councils to judicial review because of their decisions.”
The Association of Directors of Adult Social Services said the findings reinforced evidence that the care system in England was underfunded by an estimated £2bn a year.
“The system is bust and that’s where we are at the moment,” said Adass president Peter Hay.
Hay emphasised that home care providers still produced “amazing results”, but warned: “The most worrying aspect of the [UKHCA] report is we are into a commissioner-versus-provider struggle. We are in danger of the tussle distracting us from the core struggle, which is to personalise care services.”
He called for a return to the “shared commitment” to personalisation from councils and providers in the Think Local Act Personal agreement, launched this year.
A Department of Health spokesperson said: “While some councils may simply be cutting care, others are working hard to get more for less with innovative ways of delivering better care, including using more telecare and cutting needless admissions to hospital and residential care.”
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