‘15 minute visits are leaving care workers with an intolerable choice’

The short-term approach to commissioning is a ticking time bomb and we need to stop neglecting care workers, writes Neil Taggart

Photo: Mateus Lunardi Dutra/Flickr

By Neil Taggart, Director of Operations, FitzRoy, national charity supporting people with learning disabilities to live they life they choose. www.fitzroy.org

If you arranged to meet a friend for 15 minutes, you might get to say hello and make a cup of tea. But you probably wouldn’t have time to finish the tea, let alone have a good old catch up before your coat was back on and you were both waving goodbye.

Time is relative of course, but local authorities seem to think a lot more can get done in 15 minutes – they think you can make the tea, tend to personal care needs and provide the essential human contact many people rely on.

Commissioning 15 minute care visits is on the rise and, while this is legal, it has dire consequences for both the care worker and the person they are supporting. Most people come into the caring profession because they want to do just that – care for people.

‘Intolerable choice’

But 15 minute visits mean they are faced with an intolerable choice. Do they give the person they are supporting the basic care possible in the short time available and more often than not leave them with needs unmet? Or do they stay longer and provider better care and possibly lose their job because their next person complains if they are late?

To inflame the situation further, the carers are often not being paid for the time taken to get to each visit, which can sometimes be miles apart. This means it becomes impossible for them to earn enough in a day to even meet the national minimum wage standards.

‘More problems’

The system is creating more problems than it is solving, for all parties. The job becomes about the task, not about the person. If the carer is measured only on how time-efficient they are, helping someone to eat will become about microwaving a meal and plonking it down in front of them.

For those relying on these visits, their carer might be the only person they see in 24 hours. If this is no more than 15 minutes, then meaningful human contact is all but eliminated.

Efficiency, effectiveness and economy – the duties that local authorities must achieve when they commission and provide services – are a useful way to measure our work. Through these principles we can see just how much we risk if we continue in this vein.

How effective is it to leave a vulnerable and disabled person unwashed, or perhaps soiled or hungry, and reduce their need for human contact to no more than 15 minutes?

How economic is it when a person’s health breaks down to the point that they need in-patient hospital or nursing home care at a vastly greater cost?

How efficient is it when home care providers have very high staff turnover because people can’t afford to work for the pittance they are paid?

‘The time bomb is ticking’

It doesn’t have to be like this and thankfully much of it still isn’t. Home care that is properly commissioned and based on an assessment of individual needs through partnership – commissioner, provider and service user together – leads to a positive evaluation of how long each visit needs to be.

Keeping this approach is essential, as it means all responsible providers will find the most efficient, effective and economic way of supporting people to have good quality of life.

Neglecting care workers must be stopped and we must provide everyone who relies on home care visits the dignity, attention and care they need and deserve. If local authorities don’t stop their short-term approach to commissioning we will leave many people more vulnerable, not less. The time bomb is ticking as we witness services that are becoming not just inhuman, but unsafe as well.


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4 Responses to ‘15 minute visits are leaving care workers with an intolerable choice’

  1. Debra Claridge March 29, 2015 at 2:45 pm #

    15 minute care calls are disgraceful, they’re undignified and fail both the service users and care workers who have to deliver care in a time frame that is simply inadequate.
    The more and more short visits the care worker is required to do, clearly result in many workers receiving less that the NMW, when rogue employers simply flout and ignore NMW law.

    Criminal service providers who fail to pay their workers their legal travel time will continue flouting the law because NMW enforcement in the care industry is simply not happening, and they can clearly see this!

    220,000 care workers are being let down by a government that knows full well as the Public Accounts Committee acknowledged are illegally denied national minimum wage.

    Councils too cannot absolve themselves from this scandal; many of them knowingly turn a blind eye to this law breaking that is endemic in the domiciliary care industry. With staggering irresponsibility and joyous abandonment they hand out millions of pounds worth of contracts to criminal employers who are breaking the law. With a laissez faire mind set they wash their hands of their responsibility to the service user, the care worker and the taxpayer. Do none of these authorities really care about the vulnerable in our society, because their lack of action against employers who do not pay NMW appears to show a total lack of regard.

    And let’s not forget the most heinous of them all, the thieving for profit ‘care’ companies themselves, that not only steal from their own already paltry paid care workers but the tax payer too.

    Why then is the responsibility of seeking redress forced upon the maligned care worker, who then has to ring the Pay and Work Rights Helpline, which I did as a care worker 30 months ago.

    I rang the helpline in November 2012. But HMRC dragged my case out for well over 2 years, before eventually issuing my ex-employer Prestwood Care, Stourbridge with a notice of underpayment. HMRC delayed my case with prevarications and excuses. It was only because I wrote to Vince Cable MP and my own MP Chris Kelly that HMRC was then forced to give me an arrears figure at all, as late as Aug 2014, which was incorrect and also missing 3 whole pay periods.

    Not until 24 Feb 2015 did I receive an arrears figure of £851.13 which was even close to the true figure I am owed, and only then was a notice issued to my employer on 27 February 2015. Why has HMRC ignored all the other workers of Prestwood Care who are also owed arrears of underpayment of NMW?

    Why does it appear that HMRC are turning a blind eye to this scandal of illegal underpayment of the national minimum wage? HMRC had a legal duty to check all workers records of Prestwood Care?

    Yet, both Alison Richardson and Michelle Lees both care workers of my ex-employer told Radio 4 Today on the 4 March, that HMRC had not contacted either of them during their 30 month investigation, nor as far as they knew from speaking to other workers had HMRC contacted any of Prestwood’s care workers!

    Link to interview 4 March 2015 BBC Radio 4 Today, with Alison Richardson, Michelle Lees and myself talking about lack of enforcement of NMW for care workers.


  2. Jamie Wilson April 2, 2015 at 3:23 pm #

    15 minute visits and “clipping” of carer travel reimbursement by compressing visits is clearly wrong on so many levels. But it also begs the question how to make the economics of homecare work where less is available for more demand. Councils have pushed down the rates they pay agencies and agencies are acting unreasonably and underpaying care workers.

    We have taken a different approach that turns this model on its head (www.myhometouch.com) and keeps the average hourly rate at £11.98 while the carer takes home a living wage and does minimum hourly visits. This demonstrates how technology can be used to make care delivery both more efficient but also well matched and compassionate allowing carers to do their work in an unrushed and well paid manner.

    • Debra Claridge April 9, 2015 at 10:05 pm #

      Well done Jamie. The exploitation of care workers by rogue care companies who flout NMW law is an utter disgrace. HMRC calculated that in one pay period I was paid as little as £4.31 hour. Norman Lamb MP has acknowledged that underpayment of the NMW is endemic in the domiciliary care industry and has called these care companies that break the law criminals.

      It is not just the care workers that these rogue employers steal from every single day, but taxpayers too.

      This exploitation of care workers of course results in poor continuity of care for service users too. How can we as a society trust these heinous employers who steal from their own workers to be responsible for the most vulnerable in our society the old, sick and disabled.

      These companies are an utter disgrace and it time that the government really did something, instead of the usual handwringing and sound-bites of how awful it is that care workers are exploited this way, at the same time as doing diddly squat about it.

  3. Gerald April 23, 2015 at 11:26 am #

    Lets blaim the Privare Sector for all the ills of every sytem why don’t we? since when do they have qanything to d o with setting up the system of Specifying,tendering,contract palacement, monitoring and paying. All the actual implimentation of this system is solely in the hands of Council Officials at Town Hall who have always presented a “take it or leave it ” attitude to the Private Sector.
    Why o why is there always this cover up going on ? stop playing politics get on with providing a good service for the Public surely that is what we are all here for?