In a recent article for The Press newspaper, Riccall Care owner/directors Gill and Tony Conroy discuss the current state of funding and much reported ‘home care crisis’. Describing how they, as a small family business cope, and the work of Riccall Care’s dedicated carer workers out in the community.
Who cares if the money runs out?
Health and social care is in the news. With successive governments seemingly unable to take a long-term view of our growing elderly population’s needs, our current system for looking after some of the most vulnerable in our society is cracking under the strain of chronic underfunding and a lack of vision. This lack of vision, or even comprehension, of what it takes to ensure that elderly people can live independently and happily at home, warding off expensive trips to A&E and prolonged, unnecessary hospital stays on too-busy wards is strangling progress for the sector.
The erosion of our social care feels two-fold. One is lack of cash, the other a poverty of joined-up-thinking.
The recent cuts in social care over the past eight years amount to some £5 billion. That’s £5 billion out of a system that was just managing – and you can only slice a cake so thinly…
The lack of central funding now available to local authorities to spend on social care contracts means that care homes and home care providers are going out of business, leaving care gaps. It is currently estimated that some 1.2 million people in this country are living with an unmet care need. That’s 300,000 fewer people receiving council-funded help today than did four years ago. These people are using up their home equity, reserves, relying on family members or just simply going without – in short, just managing to get by.
The Government’s recent announcement that it will allow local authorities to increase council tax is a poor short-term response. It creates a “postcode lottery”, as those councils that feel able to levy higher council tax from wealthier areas will no doubt do so. Those councils with poorer areas that are already struggling will raise less and so be able to deliver less into the system. Where you live will therefore determine what kind of care you can or cannot expect – is that fair?
We believe funding for social care should come from central government and be the same for all areas of the country. Are our needs different just because we live in York or Yeovil? No they are not.
The permitted rise in council tax also comes with a sting in the tail. Although councils can seek to raise money it is capped at six per cent over three years, and as we know the problem is growing, not going away. It’s a sidestep, a delaying tactic, or worse a complete denial of chronic underfunding. Set this against the calls of overstretched hospitals to improve social care, as it costs far more per person to keep someone on a ward than care for them in their own home, and the whole situation seems crazy.
It has also recently been reported nationally that through what’s called Deferred Payment Agreements elderly people are handing over their properties to councils, which can be legally seized by the council once a person dies to cover their debts. Fifty-five councils already have some 2,895 agreements in place, according to early NHS figures. It is now predicted that unless the Government acts there will be a £2.8 billion funding gap for social care before the end of this decade, by which time many hundreds of thousands more people will be going without care. It’s a sobering thought. How old will you be and those you love in ten years’ time?
The weight of continual downward pressure on local authority spending has, inevitably, a knock-on effect on care companies like us and our ability to recruit and retain good care workers. We are very lucky in the high standard, commitment and dedication of our care team and we do everything we can to support them in what are highly rewarding roles.
Care workers are dedicated and extraordinary people. We know this, our local authority know this. The local GPs, nurses and medical health professionals know this and we all work together to provide the best care we can.
The only people who appear to be oblivious to the warning signs of underfunding and inadequate care for the elderly and undervalue the thousands of professional care workers up and down the country are the successive governments unable or unwilling to tackle the issue.
We welcomed the introduction of the National Living Wage as a fundamental right for those in work but, with no additional funding to meet increased wages, again, it puts further strain on operating costs of businesses like ours that are already stretched to the limit. We regularly hear of other domiciliary and residential care businesses pulling out of local authority contracts or simply shutting up shop altogether. With static, never mind diminishing, health and social budgeting by government, it’s perhaps worth taking a moment to understand what a care worker does and how vital they are.
So, what does a care worker do every day?
Our care workers:
- Undergo training and personal checks
- Work weekends, national holidays and unsociable hours
- Work in all weathers, often alone and using their own vehicles
- Are under time pressure, knowing that due to local authority contracts they are only paid when they enter a property
- Give emotional support to lonely and sometimes anxious people and those living at home with dementia
- Have to ensure medicine has been correctly taken or administer it
- Are trained to look for signs of malnourishment and confusion and report it
- Work with families as points of contact for other services
During the 2015 Christmas flooding in York, our care workers came out to help in emergency shelters, helping to remove clients and care for them in very stressful situations, while supporting the emergency services. And yet, we struggle to get them the recognition they deserve.
It’s a good moment to ask ourselves, “What do we value as a society?
For those without the means to ensure their health and wellbeing through private funding, and that’s the vast majority of us, what would we want for ourselves and our loved ones when we get old and infirm?
Through placing greater value on our professional care workers, we would place greater value on our vulnerable people and the quality of care they receive. We would value our society and ourselves.
DIARY OF A CARER
No two days are the same for a Riccall Care Support Worker as they visit their clients around the region. Most visits are undertaken alone but some require two care workers together. Two members of staff kept a diary…
“5.30am: Alarm goes off, up and ready to set off at 6.30am – it’s dark and freezing! Before I can leave the house I am already in contact with our care co-ordinators, who text: “Can you fit in another call?” Not today, I have to meet another carer to ensure one client gets their pension, so no time! …
“I arrive at my third client of the morning. She is fast asleep in her bed and suffers with dementia. Her commode is full but she has put her pad in there too, which means she is not wearing one in bed – oh heck!
“She has piled lots of clothes and books at the end of her bed, I’m not sure how there’s any room for her! Once I have sorted out her room I can carry on with the rest of her care to ensure she is comfortable. Off again…
Another text: “Can you do any extra at the weekend?” No, it’s my weekend off and I have made plans. We’re really struggling at the moment being understaffed but I can’t cancel my plans all the time. I do feel guilty. My break’s finished – really, already?! Back to work…
“I find my job very rewarding. I feel like I make a difference, even if it’s just sparing five minutes to have a chat in my busy schedule as I could be the only person that client sees all day.”
Care Team Leader Ian Caplin
“Up at 5.50am – alarm, shower and dressed, maybe see the kids briefly before heading out for the first client visit of the day at 7am. I have up to 38 client visits a day consisting of 15, 30, 45 and 60-minute time slots, dealing with tasks including breakfast/lunch/tea, showering/bathing and bed routines.
“Things happen, as they will – ambulances may need to be called, doctor’s visits arranged, sorting out incorrect medication and completion of care plans and paperwork…
“I may run late due to travel time being cut down in order to squeeze in an extra visit because of another carer being ill or traffic problems. Keeping up my energy I have snacks where possible and am always rushing to be on time, trying to please everyone and keep smiling!”
If you are looking for a rewarding career in care, we welcome all enquiries and support our care workers with sector leading training and support.
Looking for training for yourself, a family member or professional carer? Visit our care training page for further information and online booking.
*Photographs by Nigel Holland, courtesy of The Press*