Our undercover investigation into home care unearthed shocking examples of poor care. Missed visits, forgotten medication and food left out of reach – why aren’t older people being treated with respect?
We asked older people and their families to record their care in a diary for a week. From a woman left alone in the dark for hours unable to find food or drink, to a diabetic man’s vital medication being repeatedly forgotten – carers were often found neglecting the needs of their elderly patients.
But there were some examples of good care, where our diarists reported carers going the extra mile to give excellent service, especially those with regular careworkers. However, a good service was often only provided after complaining, with some family members forced to make continuous phone calls in a battle with agencies.
Is poor communication the cause?
So what’s at the heart of the poor care we’ve uncovered? Can it be blamed on the agencies or the system itself?
The House of Commons Health Committee recently concluded that ‘the current social care system is inadequately funded. People are not receiving the care and support that they need’.
But some of the problems people are experiencing are more basic. In a separate Which? survey, poor communication came out as a big issue, such as agencies failing to let people know that their careworker couldn’t make a visit.
Nearly half of those asked said that at least one visit had been missed in the past six months. Worse still, six in ten had’t been warned in advance.
And poor communication can have a big impact on family carers too. One daughter told us:
‘[The agency] missed a day after Christmas. They incorrectly entered into their database the days we didn’t need care. I covered, but mum didn’t contact me until early evening by which time she needed a lot of clearing up.’
Are care agencies stretched to their limits?
Would it be letting home care agencies off the hook if we said that the system itself is broken, and that they are – as one manager put it – victims caught in a ‘conspiracy of silence’ and unable to challenge the council that pays them? Is the poor care we hear about simply down to these agencies being genuinely stretched to their limits?
Whatever the case, it’s important that the government tackles this issue before missed visits cause serious safety issues and vulnerable people become the next big headline.