Appalling care provision for the sick and elderly in their own homes is leaving family members to “bear the brunt” of the failings, new research today reveals.
A survey by consumer magazine Which? found horrifying examples of home care such as one woman having her face washed with a faeces-stained flannel and being dressed in the previous day’s soiled clothes, and others revealing relatives were left all day without food or drink.
As a consequence family carers say they are struggling to bear the huge stresses of caring for their loved ones and compensating for the poor support offered by paid-for healthcare workers – who are often funded by local councils.
A separate study found that for every five hours of paid-for home care, a family carer spent one hour “sorting things out”. And one third of family carers have been forced to ask agencies not to send a particular healthcare worker back as they were “not up to the job”.
Which? executive director Richard Lloyd said it was down to the government to urgently tackle the horrifying shortfall in proper healthcare at home for the elderly, seriously ill and disabled.
He said: “Our research shows vulnerable people left scared, hungry and sometimes put at risk, and when things go wrong, it is family carers that bear the brunt, giving up their hopes and plans, even sacrificing their own health.
“Family carers shouldn’t have to struggle alone. The government has promised a high standard of care and support. Those words must now be turned into urgent action for the families affected by a system that is failing them today.”
The consumer organisation asked 40 family carers to keep a diary about their experience and that of their cared-for relative.
Common complaints included missed or too-short visits as well as a general inconsistency of care. Four in ten reported at least one missed visit in the last six months. More than a quarter (28%) said they were unhappy with the length of visits and more than half (52%) had to repeat information “unnecessarily” to different people. And only 23 per cent said they were satisfied after making a complaint to their relative’s care agency, with little or no effort made to prevent the problem being repeated.
Some revealed mix-ups with medication, alarm pendants being left out of reach and, in one instance, the daughter of a wheelchair-bound man finding he had been left in bed for 15 hours when carers failed to show.
Family members said they were “struggling to make ends meet”, while another wondered how much longer she could “carry on with the stress of caring”.
Which? magazine is now calling on the government to take steps to improve home care via the Draft Care and Support Bill currently going through Parliament.
They want local authorities to increase the “quality and availability of advice” to help families make the best home care decisions from the outset; ensure carers are made aware of their legal right to assessment for support; make GPs aware of the need to identify vulnerable family members who may be suffering severe stress; and ensure there is an independent advocacy service to handle complaints.
Vitally, they insist home care should be more “person-centred” and that 15-minute care visits should not become a ‘one size fits all’ approach.
Carers UK chief executive Helena Herklots said: “These powerful personal stories highlight how the chronic under funding of social care services too often leaves families without the vital help they need, or struggling with poor quality or unreliable services.
“Better quality and better funded services that families can have confidence in must be a priority for the Government as it takes forward its reforms to care and support services. Families shouldn't have to keep picking up the pieces of a failing care system.”