Healthcare assistants do the care, nurses do the paperwork

Healthcare assistants, not nurses, often do most of the front-line work

Healthcare assistants, not nurses, often do most of the actual care in the UK

In nearly twenty years of part-time and full-time work as an agency healthcare assistant (HCA), I have worked with many qualified nurses in care homes and hospitals who do an excellent job caring for residents and patients. In many situations however, it is the regular staff HCAs who are doing the hard work.

Due to increasing awareness of an ageing population, it is only now being acknowledged that much of the nitty-gritty hands-on caring for the elderly (be it in their own homes, nursing homes or hospitals), is actually done by “unskilled” HCAs and carers on little more than the minimum wage. Drastic cuts in social care budgets and other political problems are not helping the system as a whole. The Tory government have made a belated but predictably inadequate attempt to improve the general low pay situation in the last budget but there is still a long way to go. £9.00 per hour by 2020, excluding those under 25? Not good enough, not nearly good enough. In the meantime, most carers struggle on with around £7.00 per hour. Due to existing financial pressures, many local trusts, councils and care providers are not happy about having to give carers any kind of pay rise at all. However, as they are such caring folk, the many Chief Executives of organizations profiting from care will of course be taking cuts in their six figure salaries. Of course!

What does a healthcare assistant actually do? The underpaid, undervalued and “unskilled” work of caring for your parents, your grandparents and possibly YOU one day

The infamous Bristol Stool Chart

The infamous Bristol Stool Chart

As anyone who has worked in care and nursing knows, the supposedly unskilled work of an HCA can be physically, mentally, emotionally and even spiritually demanding in the extreme. During a 12 hour care home or hospital shift, particularly early shifts, there can be a massive amount of practical multitasking. Waking the patient or resident gently (“We have to get this lady up because her family insists on it, even though she hates getting up at this time.”), moving of heavy hoists in restricted spaces (“Why can’t they do something about these flipping leads in the way under the bed?”), toileting (“Here we go… nice and tall… ouch there goes my back again!”), wiping bottoms (“Excellent bowel action, 3 on the Bristol Stool Chart!”), washing (“There’s no soap again…”), shaving (“Gunged up blunt razor blade, I’ll have a hunt round for a new one…”), dressing (“Mind she doesn’t get another skin tear. Why hasn’t this lady got any clean knickers?”), helping with eating and drinking (“Thickened fluids… Thick and Easy? That’s just the staff!”) and so on. All the time you try to remain friendly and supportive to everyone around you, in an often extremely stressful environment.

In the meantime, the qualified nurses on a much better wage are usually getting on with dispensing medication, paperwork and attending meetings

NursesPaperworkWhich is sometimes important work in itself but this reality completely put me off the idea of qualifying as a nurse, a long time ago. (I’m not a big fan of western medicine and the very dodgy pharmaceutical industry anyway – but that’s another story!) From a 2013 Royal College of Nursing study:- “More than three quarters of nurses said the time spent completing paperwork prevented them from attending to patients.” Financially of course, qualified nurses get a relatively good deal compared to carers, starting at over £20,000 in the NHS. But it might be wise to remember who is often doing most of the hard physical and emotional work – and who is often being diabolically paid for it and sometimes being taken advantage of by their employers. Finally, a carer has recently taken a company to court for failure to pay the minimum wage.

Over the last few years, at last, there has rightly been plenty of mainstream media coverage about the problems with abuse and poor standards of care. More relatives are complaining to the Care Quality Commission. But beyond the moral outrage, isn’t it time we all started digging a bit deeper into some of the causes of these problems – the cultural attitudes and political decisions behind them – and did something about it? Why, for example, aren’t the still increasing numbers of foreign care assistants required to take a basic English test? Filipinos and Polish workers in particular can be more committed and better at the job but I have lost count of the number of times I’ve heard “It’s so nice to have a conversation with someone who speaks proper English”, from a resident or patient.

Be it in home care, nursing homes or hospitals, many of the (mainly female) staff are exhausted, demoralized and broke. Profits are still being made by many private companies who often pay their staff less than can be earned in supermarkets or factories. The situation is not anything like as extreme in many other countries and the whole culture needs to change here.

Carers, our parents, and our grandparents deserve better.

Fighting the frackers – locally and internationally

Frack free Lancashire

Frack free Lancashire

At the end of June, anti-fracking campaigners won a significant victory when Lancashire County Council rejected Cuadrilla’s applications to start fracking at two sites between Blackpool and Preston in Lancashire. The Roseacre Wood site application was rejected due to “impact on traffic” and the Little Plumpton application was rejected on the grounds of “unacceptable noise impact” and the “adverse urbanising effect on the landscape”. Since a crash-course on the pros and cons of fracking during several visits to the Balcombe anti-fracking protests in 2013, I have been convinced that these kind of basic and immediate environmental concerns will ultimately be the reasons that the shale gas industry will never become established in the UK. There are of course a ton of other reasons to be more than concerned about fracking – the danger of water pollution, the risk of earthquakes, more fossil fuel burning contributing to climate change and so on. David Cameron and the Conservative government are wrong.

Frack stops here

Frack stops here – and everywhere

Although the council’s decision has been described as winning round one, victory in Lancashire was important. An article in The Ecologist shows what a significant achievement this was, given the shockingly low and dishonest tactics they were up against.

“The Planning Officer bears a huge responsibility to evaluate the application, via a reasoned summary of the best available evidence, in an impartial and responsible manner. Unfortunately, in this case the planning officer reports fell so woefully short of such standards that they raise the obvious suspicion of undue political and/or industry pressure and influence.” Dr Damien Short, director of the Human Rights Consortium at the School of Advanced Study, University of London.

FrackOffCouncillor Paul Hayhurst:- “We were told we must vote for the application. If we didn’t we would be breaking the law and we would be deemed irresponsible members. If it went to appeal and we lost, costs would be awarded against the authority.” Hayhurst then insisted the DCC (Development Control Committee) publish the legal advice so that the public could see it. The meeting was then adjourned until the 29th June. But it wasn’t until 10 a.m. the next day when the legal advice, written by David Manley QC, was finally published on the Council’s website, and worse still it was toned down and expressly stated that rejecting the application would not break the law.

The Conservative government recently announced an end to subsidies for small-scale solar energy projects and a cancellation of home energy efficient schemes. Despite their occasional token green rhetoric, the government really couldn’t make it more obvious that they couldn’t care less about the environment. Earlier this month they made an outrageous U-turn on the promise to exclude fracking from Britain’s most important nature sites.

EnvironmentArticleMeanwhile, in the U.S. where thousands of wells have been drilled, the volume of waste produced is overwhelming the official disposal routes. It requires 5-8 million gallons of fresh water mixed with sand and chemicals to frack a single well. Some recent damming data comes from an Environmental Science & Technology article for ACS Publications: “Our findings indicate that discharge and accidental spills of OGW to waterways pose risks to both human health and the environment.” http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es504654n

Fracking on international trial in 2017

FrackingTrialA coalition of human rights lawyers and academics have announced an international tribunal to put fracking on trial. More on this at New Internationalist and Oil Change International.

“The PPT will be inviting witness testimony from citizens all over the world who may wish to hold preliminary mini-tribunals in their own country. Evidence and findings from those early tribunals can then be submitted to the later plenary hearings in the US and UK.”

In the meantime, communities around the UK continue to organize and fight back. According to a recent survey by Frack Free Upton, of over 2,100 residents living within one mile of IGas and Dart Energy’s drilling site, 86% do not want unconventional drilling in Upton.

More information on fighting fracking in the UK at Frack Off or various facebook pages including B.I.F.F. (Britain and Ireland Frack Free) http://www.facebook.com/britainandirelandfrackfree

The fracking and shale gas farce continues

FrackingOhio2014Tory energy minister Matthew Hancock is the latest Tory Charlie to enthuse about the supposed benefits of fracking and shale gas. “I want to speed up shale. It takes too long at the moment. We have to ensure that instead of an array of complicated permissions we have very firm but very clear rules.” Oh good, full speed ahead. No need to worry about the recent disaster in Ohio then.

FrackingPoliceCostOr indeed, no need to worry about the huge cost to the taxpayer for policing the many legitimate peaceful protests that are taking place around the UK. No need to worry about the cost of the damage to roads caused by lorries, something I witnessed myself last year in Balcombe. Would the industry survive if they had to pay for such “inconveniences”?

All is well. Keep burning those fossil fuels, we really don’t need to worry about all that climate change stuff do we? The fracking companies get massive subsidies and tax breaks to damage the environment – maximum profit and minimum risk for the investors and shareholders. Corporate Britain strikes again – hurrah! More info at Frack Off.

Housing association complaints – no regulation of service quality!

This updated blog post on housing association complaints is for anyone who has had serious problems with housing association complaints, Sanctuary Housing and Sanctuary Group in particular. For more on serious complaints see also 2016 post A nationwide scandal – Sanctuary Housing and the original 2009 post Are Sanctuary Housing Above The Law? and others here.

If you have had serious problems with Sanctuary Housing or Sanctuary Group, please join the independent facebook group Sanctuary Housing Independent Complaints Group – Countrywide, which has over 800 members (December 2016). It offers support and advice from others who have suffered at the hands of Sanctuary Housing – the incompetence, the frequent breaking of tenancy agreements, the threats, the lies and all the rest of it.

The information below is also relevant for complaints about other sometimes shockingly bad, usually very large, housing associations. Hyde Housing, Affinity Sutton, Metropolitan and Orbit are some that I have heard mentioned.

SanctuaryHousingIf you are reading this, you may already be familiar with the official procedure for housing association complaints, including Sanctuary’s. This consists of firstly trying to sort things out at a local level, then going through the housing association three-stage complaints procedure, then contacting a designated person (MP or local councillor). If all else fails, contact the housing ombudsman. In reality, for a large number of reasons, this process is not working for a very large number of people. The endless bureaucracy can be a complete nightmare and housing associations will often use every trick in the book to avoid taking responsibility for their poor services and sometimes diabolical treatment of vulnerable people.

An attempt to expose Sanctuary Group’s bad practices

poundsignukTowards the end of 2013 (prompted by the news that registered charity Sanctuary had made a “surplus” of £72 million – this was apparently later revised down to £54.5 million, once the acquisition of Cosmopolitan had been taken out of the equation) – I sent out a very carefully-worded physical letter to 34 contacts: Inside Housing, Private Eye, The Guardian, Homes and Communities Agency, 38 Degrees, Bureau of Investigative Journalism, Taxpayers Alliance, Shelter, the Public Accounts Committee, two Commons Select Committees, the then Housing Minister Mark Prisk and 11 other MPs. I focused on the following:-

poundsigns1. Illegal and morally questionable practices.
2. Repairs being done very badly, or not at all.
3. Many properties in very bad condition, sometimes unfit for human habitation.
4. Complaints going missing and being ignored.
5. Blatant lying and dishonest manipulation of language in order to deflect complaints.
6. Bullying, harassment and bad treatment of tenants, including the elderly and disabled.
7. Inadequate soundproofing.
8. Bad communication and a lack of consultation with communities.
9. The lowering of service standards as a result of Sanctuary takeovers.
10. Bullying and mismanagement of Sanctuary’s own staff.

Under each category I selected a few quotes from the 500+ comments on the blog Are Sanctuary Housing above the law?. I tried to include (nearly) everyone who had contributed up to that point. Although yet again there was no media interest, I had two lengthy replies, one from the Homes and Communities Agency and one from Margaret Hodge of the government’s influential Public Accounts Committee.

Replies from the Homes And Communities Agency (the social housing regulator, mainly concerned with financial regulation) 

Email: mail@homesandcommunities.co.uk  Website: http://homesandcommunities.co.uk

Postal address: Referrals and Regulatory Enquiries Team, Homes and Communities Agency, 1st Floor, Lateral, 8 City Walk, Leeds LS11 9AT

HACagencyInitially, the following reply gave me some hope:- “Thank you for your letter, sent to the Homes And Communities Agency and other organisations, containing a number of allegations about Sanctuary Housing Association… (We have) now considered the information you have provided and would like to invite you or others who have experienced difficulties to provide us with further information.” Carole Harrison, Referrals and Regulatory Enquiries Team, Homes and Communities Agency, 28.10.13

Several Sanctuary tenants sent extensive details of very serious complaints soon after – they were completely dismissed. On behalf of many tenants and others who have been badly treated by Sanctuary, I decided to have another go myself. In early 2015 I sent a carefully presented 80+ page document with extensive evidence (text, photos and newspaper articles which taken together represented 150+ Sanctuary tenants around the country) of illegal and immoral practices to a number of “authorities” and media. This included quotes from tenant-run Sanctuary facebook groups and detailed evidence of a fraud against the Scottish Housing Regulator by Sanctuary in Scotland.

The second reply from the Homes and Communities Agency was arrogant and completely dismissive. Why did they bother asking for further information if they obviously had no interest whatsoever?

Reply from Margaret Hodge MP and the Public Accounts Committee

Email: pubaccom@parliament.uk  Website: http://www.parliament.uk/pac

Postal address: Committee of Public Accounts, House of Commons, 7 Millbank, London SW1P 3JA

Margaret Hodge

Margaret Hodge MP, Chair of the P.A.C. in 2013

“My committee retains a strong interest in how the system of social housing provision as a whole is operating and I am grateful for the information you have provided… thank you for drawing these matters to my attention.” Margaret Hodge then went on to say that “the Homes and Communities Agency does not actively monitor social housing provider performance against, or compliance with, the consumer standards, responsibility for which rests with the Boards of social housing providers” Margaret Hodge, Public Accounts Committee, 6.12.13

Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but this is confirmation by the government that following on from the abolition of housing inspectors at the Audit Commission…

THERE IS NOW NO GOVERNMENT REGULATION OF SOCIAL HOUSING FOR THE QUALITY OF SERVICES PROVIDED TO TENANTS.

A selection of June 2016 tenant posts from the 700-strong Sanctuary Housing Independent Complaints Group on facebook

Truth“They are useless! Our house flooded today and none of them wanted to come help!”, “We get a newsletter and it seems to be filled with happy, content tenants. Not sure where they get these people from but it’s certainly not in any Sanctuary house I’ve ever known”, “I am appalled with sanctuary housing! If anyone is offered a house through them avoid at all costs!!…this is beyond a joke and i will make sure everyone is aware of how sanctuary actually treat their tenants!”, “So, adaptations were requested in February for my disabled three year old. They were signed off by sanctuary on March 28th but…. nothing. I’ve been calling for 10 weeks and each time I’m told they will send an urgent email to the housing officer but still nothing. My little girl can’t walk, they knew she was having surgery in March and would be in a wheelchair”, “I feel like I’ve been backed up against a brick wall, the bullying tactics sanctuary use”, “Today I heard that Sanctuary have taken over Housing 21. Why are they still taking more on when they can’t get the stock they have in decent shape?”

The relentless Sanctuary corporate PR machine paints a different picture

OhReallyFrom a June 2016 press release:- “Over 85,000 residents across England and Scotland have benefited from community investment and support from Sanctuary Group during the last financial year. The leading housing and care provider invested £1.55 million in community initiatives during 2015/ 16 to make a difference in communities nationwide. Under five strategic themes – employment, education, skills and training; health and well-being; community safety and infrastructure; environment and financial inclusion – Sanctuary’s investment has helped support more than 600 community initiatives with over 300 community groups…. Another key commitment for the Group is helping to reduce social isolation, particularly amongst vulnerable residents. 830 people have benefited through Sanctuary’s funding in the last year to help address loneliness and create more opportunities for people to feel more connected to their community.”

Why I am still writing blogs about Sanctuary Housing

SanctuaryHousingEven though I wasn’t a Sanctuary tenant myself, I had my life temporarily destroyed by Sanctuary’s useless, uncaring, arrogant and disgusting mismanagement back in 2007 and 2008. Intitially, it was all about an anti-social neighbour and non-existent soundproofing but the main problem soon became the utterly diabolical management of Sanctuary Housing. A total of eight employees (including Chief Executive David Bennett) and other contractors showed themselves up with various SanctuaaryGroupcombinations of incompetence, arrogance, blatant lying, blatant bullying and plain negligence. They lied and lied to our MP and the police, both of whom quickly saw through them. In the meantime, I lost my relationship, my home and almost my sanity. Months later, after threats from Sanctuary managers, I started a blog called Are Sanctuary Housing above the law?  As can be seen there, this company does an awful lot of harm to an awful lot of people. I have worked in supported housing, care homes and homeless hostels myself, so I have a pretty good idea of the difficulties that Sanctuary often have to deal with. They do SOME great work with people and communities, SOME of their properties are as good as the glossy Sanctuary PR pics. But they are also failing large numbers of people in countless ways and regularly trying to cover it up. In my opinion they have simply got too big TimBurnessand too greedy to function properly. Eight years on and with the help of the government and support from the Church of England, they are still expanding their property empire of 95,000 homes whilst badly letting many, many tenants and others down. No-one is stopping Sanctuary, a rogue housing association if ever there was one, or organizations like them.

(Sanctuary’s Chief Executive David Bennett was made a CBE for services to social housing in the 2015 New Year’s Honours list – an absolute disgrace.)

Why fracking in the UK is absolutely the wrong move

“The best solutions to climate change are practical. There are thus strong environmental reasons to support British fracking.” So said the leading article in The Times newspaper yesterday, referring to the need for action after the latest alarming report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC). Elsewhere in the paper, there was the news that the government is drawing up new laws to allow fracking firms to drill under people’s homes without the permission of landowners. The Times leader put forward a supposed argument for fracking, “hard as it may be for traditional environmentalists to accept”. The article suggests that fracking has played a significant role in America’s reduction of carbon emissions, and that this is the way forward over here. No, it is not. Despite its apparent success in the USA, fracking will not and can not be successful over here, for many reasons.

FrackingbonkersTo be economically viable, there would have to be many thousands of wells and drilling rigs across the country. Many, many people’s lives and communities would be devastated in one way or another. The coming and going of the required massive trucks alone would be enough for many to protest. Downland, meadowland, farmland and woodland would be subject to wide-scale industrialization. In America, towns near fracking sites have had water supplies contaminated and running out, as well as land, livestock, pets and people poisoned by air pollutants. Even according to the government’s own experts, fracking will not lower energy bills. Despite what the government claims, the environmental risks are extremely high, and the damage already done by fracking in several countries is real.

Widespread opposition has already helped stop fracking in France and Bulgaria, with temporary bans in Holland, parts of the US, Germany, Switzerland and Austria. In my view and that of many others, it must be stopped here before serious damage is done. The alternatives? Cutting energy waste and developing the UK’s huge renewable energy potential. “Britain trails nearly all the European Union in providing renewable energy – we can boast of being ahead only of those global giants Malta and Luxembourg – meanwhile states such as the US and China are surging ahead with renewables. The refusal to provide a secure, supportive investment environment for renewables in the UK risks losing opportunities for jobs and businesses.” Natalie Bennett, leader of the Green Party.

FrackingwrongmoveJoin the legal block to prevent fracking under your home! It’s a desperate attempt to undermine democracy and law. Already 40,000 of us have signed up to join the wrongmove legal block to stop #fracking under our homes – let’s make it 50,000! 
Enter your postcode to find out if your home is under threat: www.wrongmove.org

More information at Frack Off.

Why are care workers on the minimum wage?

Wayne Rooney, £1,785 per hour

Wayne Rooney, £1,785 per hour

With the announcement last week that Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney is about to earn £300,000 per week – that’s £1,785 per hour – my mind turned yet again to the low pay of care workers in the UK. Most of the ones I work with earn the minimum wage of £6.31 per hour or slightly more.

Professional footballer = £1,785 per hour.

Care worker = £6.31 per hour.

Am I missing something or is this complete, total and utter madness? Would care workers be so badly paid if most of them were men? Who cares for the carers, where is the public outrage? What kind of society are we living in that apparently accepts this situation?

I have worked with more than one Healthcare Assistant who has loved the job but has had to move on because of the bad pay – in one case to go and earn more on the checkouts in Tesco. By contrast, a small percentage of places pay their staff around £8 or more, as do care agencies who provide temporary staff such as myself. £8 per hour is closer to the so-called “living wage”, a strange concept, the obvious implication being that those on the lower “minimum wage” are not actually living! As you would expect, the staff are usually happier and far more settled when paid more, and the residents/patients receive a better standard of care.

Care worker, £6.31 per hour

Care worker, £6.31 per hour

Care work is considered unskilled, the implication being that anyone could do it. Is this actually the case? In my experience, work in nursing homes, NHS hospitals and the community can be physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually demanding in the extreme. There is often poo, vomit and blood to wipe up. At the risk of stating the obvious, sick and dying grandmothers and grandfathers are not always easy people. Almost superhuman patience is sometimes required.

The chances are that, one day, you will be one of the vulnerable and elderly being cared for by exhausted and underpaid carers.

I have heard that the situation is nothing like as bad in Scandinavia and many other countries. No remotely civilized and decent society would quietly allow such a situation to continue. Gavin Kelly, (chief executive of Resolution Foundation, an independent thinktank aiming to improve living standards for low to middle income families in the United Kingdom) has drawn attention to the fact that, due to not being paid for the time spent travelling between home visits, many carers are being paid even less than the minimum wage.

Professional footballer = £1,785 per hour.

Care worker = £6.31 per hour.

Fracking bonkers

Fracking

Green MP Caroline Lucas,  arrested at Balcombe

Green MP Caroline Lucas, arrested at Balcombe

Last summer I made several visits to the anti-fracking protests at Balcombe in Sussex, just a few train stops up from Brighton, where I live. I had only vaguely heard of fracking before, but had smelt a rat as soon as my girlfriend told me a few things about what was going on. Visits to the site were an education, in more ways than one. Apart from anything else, the heavy policing of the protests was extraordinary and unnecessary, since estimated to have cost the taxpayer £3-£4 million. One would have thought that this alone might have made David Cameron’s government question the viability of fracking, particularly in politically conservative areas such as Balcombe, but apparently not.

Protests at Barton Moss, 2014

Protests at Barton Moss, 2014

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is extremely dodgy. Irreversible water, soil and air pollution are part of the deal. And burning yet more fossil fuels in a time of climate change targets? Even discounting some of the environmental risks, there are a large number of other reasons for the UK public to be extremely worried. Fracking is a big industrial enterprise that will significantly disrupt communities and countryside if it takes off in the UK. There is obviously something very wrong if Cameron has to resort to bribing local communities and householders. He goes further and claims that opponents of fracking are “irrational”, quite an extraordinary statement to anyone who has taken the trouble to look into the pros and cons in detail. The government insists that there are “clear, robust controls in place” but a recent newspaper article uncovered the fact that the Environment Agency has precisely six full-time staff monitoring fracking. Those who have worked in the industry say that fracking can not be regulated and will therefore never be safe.

FrackedUpCameronEnergy expert Paul Stevens has carefully outlined all the issues (including the myth that energy prices will come down) and explained why fracking has conquered America, and why it can’t happen in Britain. Bribing local councils and the public is not the answer, David Cameron. It looks to me like you are in danger of committing political suicide.

A large number of videos are available including The Fracking Facade, Fracking Hell: The Untold Story and GAS – WAR.

Websites at Frack Free Sussex and Frack Off.