UNISON survey reveals how lack of funding is putting the most vulnerable people at risk
A new survey by UNISON reveals the devastating impact that coalition cuts have had on social care services in the UK. UNISON surveyed more than 1,000 care workers employed by both councils and private firms, and found that many were being asked to carry out intimate precedures that would previously only have been carried out by registered nurses.
Tasks such as changing catheter bags, peg feeding and stoma care are being carried out by homecare workers who have received little or no training, leaving care users in discomfort and vulnerable to infections. Inadequately trained care workers are also administering medication, which puts users at risk of fatal overdoses.
Almost a quarter of staff expected to administer medication had received no training at all, despite some of them having to distribute drugs like liquid morphine and insulin.
Of the homecare workers surveyed by UNISON who regularly carry out the following tasks:
• Almost six in 10 (59 per cent) had received no training in how to attach or change a convene catheter.
• More than half (52 per cent) had not been shown how to perform stoma care.
• More than four in 10 (45 per cent) had not received training in how to change a catheter bag.
• More than a third (38 per cent) hadn’t been showed how to carry out peg feeding.
More than three-quarters (78 per cent) of respondents had asked for extra training to help them carry out their increasingly demanding roles, but less than half (49 per cent) had received any.
The situation is made worse by the fact that a growing number of councils use 15-minute visits, meaning care workers have to perform complex procedures in a rush. Many say they are not able to build relationships with the people they care for because they are constantly being allocated to new people.
Despite the added responsibility that comes with carrying out these kinds of tasks many care workers are paid below the minimum wage, because they are not paid for travel time and are expected to pay for their own petrol, uniforms and mobile phones.
UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said:
“If homecare workers aren’t receiving adequate training to carry out complicated tasks, there could be fatal consequences for the people they care for.
“The funding the government gives to councils for social care has been slashed since 2010, forcing many local authorities and private companies to skimp on training. It is a stark illustration of the lack of dignity that is being afforded to both care workers and the people who rely on homecare.
“Plans to integrate NHS and social care services are doomed to failure while we have a social care system that treats homecare workers with such contempt, and the people they care for with such disregard.”
Earlier this month the government’s new care certificate came into effect. It requires staff to meet 15 criteria, including caring with privacy and dignity, awareness of mental health, safeguarding, communication and infection control.
But UNISON says that the certificate does little to address the increasing lack of training for care workers, and the risks implied for care users. The certificate is mandatory and the training provided by employers is not monitored or assessed. Furthermore, it is only aimed at new employees.
One care worker who responded to the survey said:
“I have just completed the manual handling course. This is not something you can do without practical training. It is awful to think that this course means that someone is legally able to use a hoist without ever having seen a sling or been shown how to use one.
“The course says you must not do any task if you don’t think you have received adequate training, which is typical of the culture of ‘covering your back’, now so common in care.”
Care workers also reported that they are increasingly being expected to deal with dementia and mental health cases. One respondent said they had repeatedly requested training in mental health but had received none, and had twice been threatened with knives by paranoid schizophrenics, and hit by a dementia client. Requests to work in pairs for these clients had also been ignored.
In 2014/15 the cash invested in adult social care was reduced by 1.9 per cent (£266 million) to £13.68 billion. This is the third consecutive year of cash reductions and the fifth consecutive year of real terms reductions.
Ruby Stockham is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward. Follow her on TwitterLike this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.