Elderly people let down by care services

ELDERLY people in the Beccles, Bungay and Loddon area this week backed claims that dozens of vulnerable people in the area had been left without care in their homes after a change in the way the service was provided.

ELDERLY people in the Beccles, Bungay and Loddon area this week backed claims that dozens of vulnerable people in the area had been left without care in their homes after a change in the way the service was provided.

Clifford Harper of Earsham told how his 102-year-old mother was left alone, unfed and unwashed in her home after Norfolk County Council switched to a new private care contractor, Careforce, of Stevenage at the start of the month.

A Beccles man has also complained about the quality of care received by his mother, and at Chedgrave an elderly resident said the change of care from social services to a private contactor was frightening elderly people.

Lucy Harper was among dozens of vulnerable pensioners left without care after the switch, which sparked 60 complaints ranging from missed visits, failures to provide meals, and not giving medication.

This week the council apologised to the families affected and admitted the level of care was unsatisfactory, while social services chiefs were also seeking urgent talks with Careforce's chief executive to discuss concerns following the handover, which saw the firm take on a new contract to provide care to 700 people in their own homes.

Other issues raised in the complaints include the numbers and timings of visits, and concerns that diabetics are not getting prompt attention at their set mealtimes.

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Careforce pledged to get the provision right and said problems occurred as the firm struggled to process police checks on local staff - forcing it to bring workers in from some of its 53 UK branches including Manchester and Southend to plug gaps.

Mrs Harper's son Cliff, from Earsham, said he had complained about the quality of care being provided to his mother.

“When they took over it was terrible,” he said. “She was left with no meals and she couldn't cook her own, so she was eating cheese and biscuits. She hasn't been given a shower, and she hasn't been given her breakfast. You can't leave a woman of 102 without any meals.”

Another, Ian Ellis, 63, from Beccles, said he had complained about the quality of care being offered to his mother, Eustace, since Careforce took over. The family pays around �256 a month for a care package which includes three daily visits, and help getting up in the morning and going to bed.

“My mother is 100, she's partially sighted and walks around with a frame,” he said. “They missed the tea-time visit on the Saturday and she didn't eat. She rang us about 9pm and the carer told us they had forgotten to add her to the list.

“A couple of times neighbours have come in and made a sandwich for her at lunchtime,” he added. “They took over on Feb 2 and in the morning we didn't have a carer, which didn't go down very well, and they keep missing visits. They are very rarely on time, and they have forgotten to give her her 'meds' a couple of times.

“I'm not particularly happy. Before they came we were told that we would have the same carers and we wouldn't notice any difference.”

At Ditchingham, Olive Whitely, aged 90, was another to express concern about a service which has left here waiting for care which did not arrive

Joan Wychgel, pictured left, 83, from Chedgrave, was angry at the revelations.

“I've had a carer for many years now. She is employed by social services, and is excellent,” she said.

“She is a genuinely caring person. The point is that if they are going to get in private companies, these companies are going to want to run the service for a profit. Profit is all the companies are going to think about.

“The care workers will be paid less. It's wrong. I am in my mid 80s, and to see them cutting down the social services makes us feel as if they think we have 'lived too long'. Is that the attitude now?

“These kind of changes are very frightening for elderly people.”

One care agency professional, who did not want to be named, pointed the blame at the council's switch to a new form of block tendering.

“It's about time it was exposed,” he said. “Norfolk County Council is accountable. It's not good enough to say there are teething problems: we are now in the third week and it's still going on - that's unacceptable. It's just one big nightmare.”

County Hall, which spends �36m a year on in-house and private care, awarded a five-year contract for home care visits in the Norwich and South Norfolk area to the national firm as part of a deal to boost the number of care hours being offered to around 5,500 people across the county in their own homes.

Contract changes in the rest of Norfolk, which also occurred at the same time, had largely passed without incident the authority said.

Jonathan Dunning, branch secretary for Norfolk Unison, said he had raised issues with adult social services and also contacted Norwich North MP Ian Gibson, after he had received complaints from care staff. The MP is now seeking a meeting with Careforce to discuss the issue.

The move is part of a shift which will see County Hall move away from residential homes towards more preventative home care and reduce the amount of care provided in-house from 50pc to 20pc.

James Bullion, the council's assistant director of community care for Adult Social Services, said the contract was part of a thorough re-tendering process to negotiate an additional 7,090 hours of home care a month across the county.

“We will continue to monitor the situation and in the meantime, we are confident that Careforce is making every effort to actively recruit appropriately skilled and experienced staff.”

Careforce Operations Director Philippa Codd: “The mobilisation of this contract has been challenging and we have had a slower intake of new care staff and fewer carers transferred from the outgoing provider than we envisaged.

“These factors have combined to create difficulties in the timing of some of our care visits and we are aware that our carers are sometimes running late. This will be corrected quickly as new carers come on board.”

She said Careforce was working very closely with Social Services to address issues quickly but was waiting for the Criminal Records Bureau to finalise checks on newly recruited and trained careworkers.

“We understand that change can be unsettling and we would like to apologise unreservedly to any service users and their families if the transition process has caused them distress or difficulties," she said.

Anyone with concerns or questions about their current home care should contact the council on 01603 638452.