Newcrosshealthcare employee review – £50 fine for being ill?

Mostly good, too corporate. A very “mixed” four years.

newcrossWhen I first joined, the Brighton branch was run by a very good manager. For the likes of me (healthcare assistant and support worker, on and off for twenty years, including a great deal of agency experience) and qualified RGNs, there was plenty of work available (mostly in care homes) and we were very well supported. After the manager suddenly left, things went slowly downhill. They’ve recently closed the Brighton branch, running any remaining business from Eastbourne.

Pros and cons

Holiday pay is included in the hourly rate. Pay is not bad but they pull a bit of a fast one by including “holiday pay” in the hourly rates. It may look as though you are being paid more than other care agencies – often around £8.00 for day shifts (below a real living wage), more for nights and weekends – it’s actually about the same or slightly less than other agencies.

Variable management. At least at the branch where I was. One stand-in manager was extremely insensitive during an annual staff review and I made my feelings clear to her and to the regional manager at the time. Newcross can be overly corporate, the word care in Newcrosshealthcare is sometimes overlooked – I had to stand up to them a few times.

newcross2The £50 fine “cancellation fee”, including if you are ill! What on earth are they on about!? It may discourage people from phoning in sick last minute but it really upsets and undermines staff. Fortunately, I’m in good health so this outrageous policy only affected me a couple of times. On more than one occasion, I worked with Newcross staff who had come into work with stinking flu in a care home, rather than go through the hassle of the £50 cancellation process i.e. getting a refund after a doctor’s note.

The call centre in Devon is sometimes at odds with the local branch. At one stage I put in a complaint about an incredibly rude and unprofessional call worker. At other times I would ring in to register my availability (Newcross tend to be a bit obsessed with this) and would later find out that it hadn’t been put on the system. On the whole though, most staff were doing a good job, some were lovely people.

Continually recruiting new staff when there aren’t enough shifts for existing staff. Newcross regularly sent me enthusiastic text messages, reminding me how I can earn a bonus for recommending people to work locally. Fair enough if there was plenty of work to go round but this was often far from the case!

newcrosstwitterMostly good but too corporate. Newcross sometimes seem a bit too concerned with their self-described corporate mission “to dominate the market”, rather than respecting their staff at all levels. Despite that, thank you to them for helping me pay the bills for the last four years, I made some good friends and enjoyed much of the work particularly the many regular homes and clients. I know from experience that some agencies are worse. I’m now at a smaller, more local agency which is generally a bit more human.

A shortened version of the above has been posted on indeed.co.uk, the job website.

January 2019 update: Thank you to The Guardian newspaper for exposing this dodgy company.

The front page of the printed edition on Christmas Eve, no less! Although my time with Newcrosshealthcare was not all bad, everything in The Guardian is consistent with both my experience and everything I heard (or suspected) as I gradually found out more about them. Thank you to the journalists and whistleblowers involved.

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/dec/23/british-care-company-fines-workers-50-for-calling-in-sick

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 can be 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.

15 years of agency care and support work

My main income since the late nineties has involved just about every form (apart from more specialized and highly qualified roles) of care, nursing and support work that there is. It has been, and continues to be, an “interesting” journey, to put it mildly.

Like many people in care and nursing, I began with home care. For a couple of years I had three regular characters who I would cook and shop for, and in the case of the blind young man, occasionally take him down to the local pub. The retired chef from Bangladesh was always keen to tell me about his experiences with prostitutes. The self-styled “bastard in a wheelchair” of my own age was another great character, but I wasn’t surprised to hear that he later drank himself to death. From there I gradually moved into nursing homes and geriatric wards at a local hospital. Commonly known as “the poo wards”, they were wisely shut down some years later.

ModellingPad

Modelling an NHS incontinence pad, around 2003

Having already had experience of helping the mentally ill with both my mother’s and a friend’s troubles, next came extensive experience at two NHS psychiatric hospitals for a few years. Ah, the joy of death threats from psychotic schizophrenics. Round about the same time, I also started work at an excellent NHS neuro-rehab unit, some of my most enjoyable and genuinely rewarding experiences – partly because a lot of the patients would actually get better. They would come in with a stroke, or in a coma from a failed suicide attempt, or a brain haemorrage brought on by an extreme lifestyle, or a recurrence of multiple sclerosis symptoms. Even though I was still working for an agency, I felt very much part of the team. One actually made a difference in helping many people recover, even if only partly. Good times.WithStaffNurse

For several years I considered qualifying as either a general or psychiatric nurse. For a number of reasons I decided against it. As an unqualified “healthcare assistant” or “nursing auxiliary,” one is hands-on caring for people, not endlessly filling in paperwork and dispensing products from the pharmaceutical industry.

Other work involved experience of autism and challenging behaviour, general wards in several hospitals, also children’s homes. Round about 2007, I gradually moved into supported housing and working at homeless hostels run by the local council. Most residents at these places had a mix of mental health and drug and alcohol (“substance misuse” as they like to call it) problems. As nice as some of them were, dealing with heroin addicts on a regular basis will quickly wipe out any of the more romantic notions that anyone might have had about helping the homeless!

Following big management problems with my last agency (the local branch closed down), over the last year I have re-established myself through two different agencies – in care homes, some different NHS psychiatric units, hospitals and a few other places such as a home for the blind. It’s okay, mostly I do actually feel I’m making a difference. I wish it paid a bit more, and of course it can be physically and mentally exhausting at times. At least as an agency worker I get a bit more than many regular carers – many are on £6.50 or less an hour. Something not quite right there?

My mother’s mental illness

schizophreniaJust recently I have been thinking more than usual about my mother, and the impact she has had on my life. Rumour has it she gave birth to me, that was quite a big impact for a start wasn’t it?! Her initial diagnosis of “paranoid schizophrenia” (there is plenty of debate as to how helpful or accurate these kind of labels actually are…) was in 1969 or so and although she has had quite long periods of mental stability since, she never really recovered.

Roughly ten years ago I made the decision to completely cut her out of my life. As an only child who had done my best, I had simply had enough – there were times when she was pulling me under too. As difficult as it might be for the majority of people to understand, it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. Those who have had to deal first-hand with the reality of extreme mental illness (e.g. attacking my Dad with a knife in front of me, wandering the streets half-naked in the middle of the night, religious fanaticism, stays in psychiatric hospitals etc.) will get where I’m coming from. She has been in a care home these last few years and I heard recently that she has now begun to develop dementia. I politely declined the request to take on the Power of Attorney, I have no interest in being sucked back into her bonkers world. God bless her, if that doesn’t sound too patronizing. I love her of course.

Kind of ironically, dealing with my Mum turned out to be ideal training for all the psychiatric support work I’ve done. Also, looking at her astrological birth chart for the first time (it explained so much) was the beginning of my serious interest in astrology. My mother was a successful classical violinist, so I guess I can thank her for some of my music too.

mental healthIn terms of compassion and support from society, mental health is not as sexy as cancer, famine relief, or the cat’s home. Many of the mentally ill are on benefits, it looks likely that many will be amongst the first to suffer as a result of the UK government cutbacks. There are organizations such as MIND and the under-funded NHS doing great work, but as a whole, I don’t think society cares much about people with mental health problems. This seems a bit odd as it indirectly or directly touches so many of us, even Stacey and her mother in Eastenders… ahem.

A night shift

As there have been a few problems with new staff getting me work at my nursing agency, I took a night shift at Southlands Hospital for the first time in ages on Tuesday night. As night shifts go, it was quite busy, but quite enjoyable. I was on an orthopaedic ward, the patients are only there for a few days while they have their hip/shoulder replacements (or whatever) and then they go home as soon as possible. Compared to some places I work they mostly need a lot of monitoring, particularly after their operations. This involves hourly taking of blood pressures and temperatures which can get a bit tedious after a while, although the patients don’t seem to complain.

NightShiftIt can be a slightly creepy experience wandering around a large hospital in the early hours of the morning. At least I remembered to bring some half-decent food with me this time, it keeps you feeling half-human when you haven’t had any sleep. A couple of new admissions knocked on the door at 7.00 a.m. which kept us busy at the end of the shift. But just as we thought everything was done and the two staff nurses had started to handover to the morning day staff, we discovered a woman sitting in a mixture of her own faeces and fluid leaking from a wound. Clearing that lot up woke me up!

The main problem for me with night shifts is how they muck up your sleep patterns, unless you are doing them regularly. Otherwise I would probably do more as they pay better and are usually quite relaxed compared to day shifts.

One or two album reviews have surfaced on the net this week, and there’s been some very nice feedback indeed from several people who’ve bought a copy. That really does make it all worthwhile.

%d bloggers like this: