THE elderly and vulnerable are suffering shocking care at home including being tended by criminals and given sedatives at the wrong time.
A Sunday Post investigation has discovered home care providers in the north of England have been slated by watchdogs for failing those who rely on them.
The problems uncovered by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) included people being given drugs in the morning instead of at night and staff whose care of elderly people was “guesswork most of the time”.
There were also numerous problems with checking carers’ employment history including taking on staff with criminal convictions without evidence they had checked the workers were suitable.
Last night campaigners blasted the agencies but welcomed the CQC’s tough stance.
Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, said: “Improving poor care is not rocket science. It comes down to how people are treated when they are at their frailest, and often a warm word or extra time spent in chatting or helping can make all the difference.
“In instances of serious breaches of regulation we are pleased the CQC is taking action. It is vital that the regulator seeks out similar examples of poor practice in all care homes and acts quickly to improve services.”
Councils in England spend £16 billion a year on social care but research by the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services suggests that it is likely a massive £800 million will be shaved off the budget this year.
Home care agencies are regularly inspected but it is rare for the worst performing to be publicly exposed.
However, we can reveal that, since 2010, some 27 home care agencies in the North West and North East have had judgments against them which required immediate improvements.
And three providers are currently subject to tough “enforcement action” by the CQC which means the firms will face sanctions if they do not comply.
Inspectors found evidence of criminal records checks not being carried out and carers giving vulnerable people medicine despite not knowing what it was or why they were taking it.
They also uncovered evidence that carers were not turning up to appointments, allegations they were forgetting to give medicine and sufficient checks on the quality of service were not being done.
Dave Watson, an organiser with Unison, said increasing demand for services combined with reduced budgets means vulnerable people are being left with a poor service.
He said: “Home care workers, often paid little above the minimum wage, employed on zero or nominal hour contracts are running around our communities trying to look after some of the most vulnerable members of society.
“The only way for some staff to finish the day is to cut corners in what are already inadequate care packages.”
But a Department of Health spokesperson insisted social care “is a priority”. He added: “That is why we have taken steps to protect social care services and provided extra funding for social care.
“This includes up to £1.1 billion per year from the NHS for social care with a health benefit until 2014/15, and a further £3.8 billion pooled budget for health and social care for 2015/16.”
A CQC spokesperson said: “The CQC’s role is to inspect health and social care services and assess their compliance with the national standards. And in doing so, highlight where the safety and wellbeing of people using services may be at risk so improvements can be made.
“Where we find that standards are not being met we take action to ensure a provider implements improvements. We then follow up to check whether these improvements have been made and are being sustained.
“Our inspectors seek the views of people using the services and, if appropriate, family members. In addition, inspectors may be accompanied by experts either subject matter experts or ‘experts by experience’.
“We obtain intelligence from what we find when visiting a service as well as information from partner agencies such as the local authority, or commissioners of services, user groups and other stakeholders.”
Careline Homecare Ltd
The Newcastle Upon Tyne-based firm which provides a range of home care and supported living including elderly, children and people with disabilities, has two enforcement notices.
One care worker admitted they did not know what medicine they were giving to a woman was or what it was for.
One relative said carers sometimes “forgot” to administer medicine and concerns were raised by a relative regarding carers who turned up late, leaving their mum stuck upstairs without medicine.
One worker admitted care was based on “guess work most of the time”.
John Preston, of Careline Ltd, said all issues were resolved and its recovery plan will ensure compliance at the next review.
Prime Time Recruitment Manchester
The agency which provides home care, supported living and community health services including dementia, elderly, eating disorders, mental health conditions and disabilities, has two enforcement notices.
Among the concerns was two employees with criminal records. Inspectors did not see a risk assessment or management plan to ensure these staff were of good character.
Concerns over safety including “medicine with a sedative effect” which should have been given at night, was routinely being given in the morning.
A spokesperson for the firm said since the inspection it has invited in an independent auditor on two occasions who highly rated the service, adding it has the “most robust and rigorous training proramme in the industry.”
Prestige which provides home care and supported living has one enforcement notice. Previous inspections found it did not have an effective system to regularly assess the quality of care it gave to people.
The firm, based in Stalybridge, Cheshire, put together an action plan setting out how they would tackle the problem. But inspectors found visits by management which the firm had vowed to do, were still not being done consistently.
They also found onetoone supervision was being done inconsistently and no staff meetings were being held.
Owner Simon Buxton said they have “worked hard to ensure things have been put right” adding he contacted the CQC on October 8 to request a followup inspection.
Home care how it works
Home carers provide a range of help for elderly or vulnerable people, including assistance with dressing themselves, bathing, cooking, shopping or trips out of the home environment.
But some local authorities only provide funding for carers if people are assessed as having exceptional circumstances.
A community care assessment takes place before a social worker will make the decision whether a person is eligible for support. An assessment of the person’s financial situation is also carried out to decide whether they are able to contribute towards the costs themselves.
Once this process has been completed, the elderly person may choose to have carers organised by social services or to receive a budget so they can purchase their own