Homecare in Bristol is far from ‘safe’ as Jon Rogers, the Councillor responsible for care in the City, claims (see leaflet). His choice of the word ‘safe’ is very interesting because it is over the issue of safety that the Lib Dems and the Council’s homecare workers are in dispute.
The Council’s current use of private Homecare in Bristol is in line with the national average at 84%. The Lib Dems plan to go far beyond this and get rid of ALL its direct provision of long term Homecare. I am reminded that the Titanic was ‘safe’, until it sunk. Many, many people are concerned about the state of social care in the UK and this concern is based upon their experience of privatised care. Furthermore, even members of the National Care Homes Association (the operators of private sector residential care homes) now say the regulation of social care is inadequate. Nurses too have lost confidence in the Care Standards Commission. It is only a few weeks since Panorama exposed appalling institutional abuse at Winterbourne View in Bristol, that Rose Villa in Bristol closed down because it was ‘failing’, and three private homecare companies in Bristol have either ‘failed’ or gone bust in the past few months. Safe, Mr Rogers . . . are you really so certain?
To be eligible for homecare support from the Council’s Homecare Service means that the person concerned is either very ill with limited life expectancy or considerably disabled. One does not choose to be in need of homecare, but Mr Rogers offers us his assurance of safety based on ‘customer surveys’ - as though talking to GCSE business studies students. Mr Rogers approaches homecare like it's some sort of lifestyle choice where the only issue at stake is a matter of logos or branding. Indeed, it would not look out of place if his leaflet carried a banner saying ‘NEW IMPROVED HOMECARE, 100% MORE EFFECTIVE, 9 out of 10 CATS PREFER PRIVATISED CARE, WASHING MACHINES LIVE LONGER WITH CARE CO’.
People in Bristol know that attempts to cheapen the care service in the City are merely being spun as offering ‘more choice and control’. Frankly, the idea of offering a choice of homecare companies for critically ill people to (and I quote) ‘enjoy’ is total nonsense. The notion that this gives them ‘control’, borders on the downright offensive. Families who are currently experiencing the distress of losing their regular visits from Council homecare workers and being transferred over to private sector providers know that Mr Rogers' claim of a ‘smooth handover’ is untrue. A smooth handover is supposed to mean that the Council homecare worker who knows the service user well actually attends a handover meeting with the private care agency. This is vital for the safety of service users (for reasons that are so obvious I don't need to spell them out). To the union’s knowledge, this has not happened on a single occasion in Mr Rogers' so called, ‘improvement to home care services’.
Instead, the people involved: the homecare worker, the service user, their family members, are having their caring relationships ripped up in front of their eyes. Homecare workers are simply instructed that they are no longer to visit, they are not permitted to say goodbye nor to attend handover meetings. And lets be frank, these ‘people’ are mainly women. Most workers are women, most service users are women and most family members who take responsibility for care arrangements are also women.
Despite having a legal duty to conduct an Equalities Impact Assessment of the decision to remove Council services from service users, Bristol City Council has not done so. Let’s be clear about what this means. The Council has a legal obligation arising from the Equality Act 2010 to promote equality and reduce discrimination. The case law is crystal clear that the Equality Impact Assessment must be done before a policy decision is taken. The groups who are entitled to consideration via this special legal duty are (amongst others) women and disabled people. Where a risk of discrimination is uncovered, immediate action should be taken to reduce that risk. Mr Rogers is so certain of safety that he has decided not to comply with the law.
This is not the only legal pickle the Council are heading towards, from an employment law perspective they are acting in breach of their obligations on redundancies too. No consultation over collective redundancies has yet taken place with trade unions because the Council, wrongly, are proceeding on the basis that voluntary redundancies do not really count as job losses. Homecare Services in Bristol are so ‘safe’ that Mr Rogers has not even identified how many Council homecare workers will be made redundant. Just one of the many reasons for this is that Homecarers have been offered ‘alternative employment’ in care homes which are ear-marked for closure – hardly a promising employment offer.
Mr Rogers relies heavily on a mantra of ‘you’re safe, I am a doctor’ and offers us assurance of his credibility by drawing on the reputation associated with his profession. His latest leaflet makes a tempting offer: ‘If you are aware of any problems, at all, please contact me’. Yet seven days ago, Mr Rogers was informed by the union about a service user who had been left for three days at risk of dehydration, urinary tract infection and a deterioration of his psychological health. This very elderly man had been transferred from a Council homecarer to a private homecare agency and the agency had failed. The response of the good doctor Rogers was: ‘I am not sure that it is appropriate for you to be contacting me on this issue’.
And finally, don’t be fooled by Mr Rogers' repeated assertion that 85% of homecare services are already delivered by private companies. He keeps trotting out this line to make the concerns of homecare workers, local communities and service users seem like a fuss about nothing. Please bear in mind that half of this ‘85%’ is not the same work that the Council’s own homecare staff specialise in. About half of the work undertaken by private sector companies is on contracts for washing laundry, collecting pensions, cleaning houses and low-level care tasks. The Council’s own Homecare Service delivers personal care – it’s the tricky stuff of dealing with incontinence, open wounds, bathing the disabled, checking medication for stroke victims and dressing dementia sufferers. This is the work which is being transferred to the private sector and it doesn’t look like ‘waste and red tape’ to me.