Without proper regulation, and often working alone, care workers receive neither the training or support they need. The people who look after our loved ones deserved betterby James Oddy / March 12, 2018 / Leave a comment
We’ve seen care workers struggling with the recent weather—but that’s just the start of it. Photo: PA The inclement weather of the last few weeks has proven disastrous for many people. Yet it’s also provided us with a reminder of the inherent good of people. Images of NHS professionals sleeping over in wards and trekking for miles on end to cover shifts provided the perfect example of the natural instinct to come together as a community to help each other out. It’s quite right that doctors, nurses and occupational therapists—and every other healthcare professional—have been lionised in such a fashion by the media. But the weather also shone a light on one the plight of one of most neglected of work forces in a similar field: that of the care worker. Tragically, a Scottish care worker was found dead whilst making visits one morning. There was also many local stories and anecdotal talk of care workers being stranded in cars whilst making hazardous journeys, others walking huge distances, terrified of missing visits. Care work is an elastic term, which may explain why it’s rarely discussed much. A “care worker” may mean someone who helps the elderly who still live in their own home. A care worker could be supporting people suffering from mental illness as they make a recovery. Care work could entail working in a children’s home. Or it could involve working with individuals with severe learning difficulties. I have done the latter off and on since I was a university student. It is, without a doubt, one of the most rewarding things I’ve done in any aspect of my life. It’s a unique job, so far removed from the more conventional 9-5 people find it hard to comprehend. I’ve taken service users to football games. I’ve helped them get dressed. I’ve taken them for pub lunches. I’ve dispensed their medication. I’ve taken them to church, to family members wedding and christenings. I’ve changed countless numbers of dirty pads and emptied countless catheters. I was there for them, for whatever they needed help with, and I was always happy to do it. I still bump into people I cared for years ago, and I am still sincerely interested in what they now get up to. Nobody entering into care work expects it to be just the fun stuff—the nitty gritty of support and care is never glamorous. It’s tough both physically and mentally. Yet, as the past week reminded me, it can be at times look borderline dangerous for all involved—and that’s rarely discussed. You don’t need any formal qualifications to work in care. I don’t believe that is automatically a bad thing, as it would exclude some people who are brilliant at the job but have neither the desire nor ability to study at a higher level. But it’s something that many people find shocking. The army of people providing day-to-day care for many of our most vulnerable are not formally trained. As local authorities have removed their adult social care infrastructures, the onuses of what staff need to do training-wise have come entirely in house, with multiple trusts and private providers which stepping into the breech. In my last role, I had no first-aid or moving and handling training at all, and only a two-hour session on medication. This was despite caring for individuals with serious mobility issues, others with epilepsy and almost all on large amounts of medication. And I’m not unique in that regard. I used to image what a family member of a person I was caring of would make of that. Did they know how badly prepared people were to look after their loved ones? Care workers are also often horrendously paid. Again, people are aware of that before they sign up, and people are also aware of the deeply unsociable hours. Yet it still needs highlighting. Long shifts with ‘sleep ins’ paid at flat fees contrast with ‘split shifts’ which may involve working first thing in the morning or last thing at night for only a few hours. (It’s also worth noting that the majority of care workers are women and migrant workers; people would often point out I was doing a “woman’s job,” which perhaps contributes to an idea that it should be a labour of love, not of professional standing.) Most people get into care because they do care, admittedly. But align those hours and pay with the fact you also often work alone, rarely seeing or interacting with a manager, and it’s no wonder care has such a huge turnover of workforce. This, then, creates a demand for agency staff, creating situations where vulnerable individuals who often require routine to be cared for by someone they have never met before and may never meet again. I don’t write this piece to denigrate care workers, manager, or providers, many of who do the best job they can. I write it to highlight how the current system is inherently flawed, often relying on staff going above and beyond what they are paid and trained to do. People within care deserve more praise and recognition for their work. They are on the frontlines of our communities, a representation of our shared empathy. Next time the weather takes a turn for the worst, give them a thought.