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'We need to take better care of care workers'

By West Briton  |  Posted: February 06, 2014

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NOT before time, politicians are being forced to think about the lot of care workers.

Just because few home and nursing home care workers ever complain or communicate with their local MP, does not mean to say that they haven't a right to have a voice.

It has been my privilege not only to meet many care workers but also, on one occasion, to shadow their work.

This has helped to inform me and to help me make a very strong case for care workers to be given the protection of a decent "benchmark" of standards of treatment which those who commission their work should never allow the service to fall below.

I've been watching the progress of health policy long enough now, including through my membership of the commons health select committee, to know where health policy is going.

Health Ministers, policy wonks, bean counters, hospital managers and, even patients themselves, all say that we should treat and care for more patients in their own homes; to avoid unnecessary hospital admissions and to discharge patients more quickly than we have done in the past.

But where does this all lead? Well, a health service which depends on a functioning and safe structure of care and support in people's homes. And who are the army of workers who will take on the bulk of the job of providing that care?

Homecare workers, who are among the lowest-paid, most put-upon and most criticised group of workers in the country; on some occasions, even more criticised than MPs. They are expected to undertake an often unfeasible range of tasks on immobile and sometimes overweight people in cramped conditions and sometimes in less than 15 minutes; for their travel time and expenses not be covered, to be given little training and induction and to be paid at or around the minimum wage for their pains.

I sometimes ask ministers how long it took them to get up, wash, get dressed, have breakfast and get out in the morning and then to ask them if they think it's fair to expect a homecare worker to perform those functions on an elderly and less-mobile person than themselves in less time? One disabled elderly person recently complained that they had 56 different homecare workers coming to visit their home during the previous year. It's no wonder that homecare workers move on as quickly as they do. Wouldn't you?

That's why I am arguing for an end to this "out of sight, out of mind" attitude which underpins the way in which we treat patients who are cared for in their homes and the homecare workers who have to provide that care.

For the past year I have been putting pressure on health ministers to accept my draft standards for care companies who provide home care which includes:

a living wage for care workers (£7.20 per hour in 2013);

travel time between visits is part of salaried time;

mileage rate with an at least minimum level of 35p per mile;

a minimum visit time of 45 minutes in exceptional cases, but at least one hour for most visits;

efficient arrival/departure reporting systems;

proper induction and structured annual training leading to qualifications.

We need to build our health and social care system on strong foundations. If care at home is to be a growing feature of that system then we need to give it more than the threadbare resources currently on offer.

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