David Thomas is a full-time carer.
Much has been written recently about the problems our A&E Departments are facing in reaching their target of seeing 95 per cent of their patients within four hours of their arrival.
The problem seems to stem from the fact that once a decision has been made to admit a patient to hospital, there is the very real problem of finding an actual bed for them. My own local NHS Trust has 200 of its 800 beds taken up by patients who are ready to be discharged if only there was somewhere to discharge them to. This leads to A&E Departments becoming clogged up – and the distressing sight of patients being left in corridors seemingly ignored.
Social Care is getting the blame. Age UK say that older people in England are being left “high and dry” by councils cutting back on the care they provide. The charities’ research showed that the numbers getting help have fallen from just over one million to 850,000 in the last three years. They go on to say that the cuts were one of the major causes behind the growing pressure on A&E Departments. But councils say that they have been left with very little choice because they are chronically underfunded.
Ed Miliband has committed Labour to recruiting an extra 5,000 care workers and to increase the amount of time a care worker spends with a patient within the next ten years, but has fallen short of agreeing to increase funding.
If we are to begin to solve this problem, we should start by looking at our care providers who visit patients in their own home, and at their practices. In all too many of these providers, the hours are long, much too long. A working day typically starts at 7 am and doesn’t end until well into the evening – maybe as late as 10 or 11 pm. I have had carers tell me that they get one day off a week, but they are very often expected to work a chunk of that too.
Are they paid well? No: homecare workers are only paid for the time they spend with a patient. They are not paid for the time they spend travelling from visit to visit or waiting if they arrive early. They live with the pressure of making every appointment on their “list”, and short cuts are surely taken if there is a pressure on time.
Is it any wonder we are short of homecare providers? So many people in our society are known for their caring nature, but they are not being attracted to the profession, and I can understand why. I wouldn’t want to work under their terms and conditions of employment either. If you are at work for say 12 hours you should be paid for 12 hours work, not eight or nine.
I would like to call for a “Care Workers Charter” by which our Homecare Workers terms and conditions of employment would be protected. It would stipulate a maximum number of hours to be worked, and it would ensure that Homecare Workers are paid for the whole time they are at work. I suspect that a number of our Homecare Workers battle exhaustion on a daily basis, and that they thus cannot be as effective at the end of the day as they were at the start. It is no different from what we expect from our haulage industry.
Care companies that sign up to this Charter could be awarded some kind of gold standard, which would allow Homecare Workers and patients to be able to tell at a glance that this is a company that values their staff and treats them well. If we make the employment package better, we can find more people being attracted to Homecare working, and may even see more Care Providers springing up. We would see the pressure on our A&E Departments and Hospitals being relieved. Our society as a whole would be the better for it.