Ongoing issues

PUBLISHED: 11:58 12 June 2008 | UPDATED: 13:22 06 May 2010

SIR, — I am writing regarding your front-page story Uncared-for elderly hit out at service (Herts Advertiser, May 29). Firstly, I would like to congratulate those who spoke out about the poor service received by users of care agencies in Herts. I feel o

SIR, - I am writing regarding your front-page story "Uncared-for elderly hit out at service" (Herts Advertiser, May 29).

Firstly, I would like to congratulate those who spoke out about the poor service received by users of care agencies in Herts. I feel older people are often afraid to express their concerns about poor service as they are worried about reprisals.

For three-and-a-half-years, I looked after my mother in her own flat with twice-daily visits from agency carers. I can recount a catalogue of problems encountered when dealing with these agencies. Here are just a few:

Staff would not turn up or else the morning calls would be so late they ran into lunchtime. Weekend calls were always hit-or-miss.

When staff didn't visit, there began a frustrating series of phone calls to the agency, resulting either in a limp apology or an excuse (blaming staff or computer error), or a replacement carer being sent out - generally too late to be of any help.

The agency was supposed to send my mother two carers to lift her out of bed in the morning but we rarely had more than one. I always wondered what happened to the money paid to the agency for the second carer. My mother was supposed to have an hour-long visit in the morning but rarely got more than 20 minutes.

One agency made no allowance for travel time between calls so that travel time ate into the time carers could spend with their clients.

Having to listen to the moans of carers who have been given 11 calls to make in a morning makes recipients feel as though they are even more of a burden. They are not a burden - they just need a little help.

One afternoon my mother felt under the weather and had gone to lie down but still needed washing and changing for bed. We checked her late that evening and were convinced that no carer had been because nothing had been done. When we complained to the agency, they assured us that the carer had indeed been to visit but was convinced that Mother had had a stroke so she merely gave her a drink of water and left to do her next client! If she really thought that, why didn't she call an ambulance?

Often the medications were not ticked off on the form and I had to call the agency to find out whether or not tablets had been given. After a while, because the carers would always say that they had given the tablets (whether true or not), I resorted to counting the tablets remaining in the packets.

In the end, I felt that I was not receiving any support looking after my mother and the pressure of keeping her in her own home, as well as looking after my family, became too much for one person. Regrettably I had to find a care home. Two-and-a-half years later, I am still frustrated because the standard of care in elderly people's homes is little better. Don't be fooled - having an elderly relative in a care home is just as worrying. I still have to visit every day to ensure that she is properly fed and looked after.

I feel very strongly that in today's society, the free choice of elderly people to stay in their own homes is an illusion because their needs cannot be met by Social Services. It seems as though the agencies take on too many contracts which they don't have the trained staff to service adequately. This leads to poor morale and inferior service. And the same is true in care homes. If there is a problem at weekends, where are the managers? Where are the people who run the agencies? I would contend that lots of personal fortunes are being made out of the neglect of the needy and vulnerable.

The tragedy is that at some point in time, every family will have a mother, father, sister or brother who needs a care service and it's very worrying that standards are so low. If we were talking about young children, staff would be properly trained and monitored so why is a much lower standard for frail elderly people deemed to be acceptable?

My personal view is that the profit motive should be completely taken out of care for the elderly. The responsibility for providing care, not just paying for it, should rest with the county council which can provide what is needed in a non-profit-oriented way. If our loved ones receive that care they really need, then we are all so much richer.

GEORGINA AYRES,

Robert Avenue, St Albans.

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