Elderly speak out about lack of care

NUMEROUS elderly and disabled people have been going without vital home care at the weekends it emerged this week. Revelations in last week s Herts Advertiser about a 76-year-old emphysema sufferer going without a carer on a Sunday proved to be just the t

NUMEROUS elderly and disabled people have been going without vital home care at the weekends it emerged this week.

Revelations in last week's Herts Advertiser about a 76-year-old emphysema sufferer going without a carer on a Sunday proved to be just the tip of the iceberg as more and more people contacted the newspaper about their problems with new care provider Supporta Care.

Now Herts County Council (HCC), which employed the company from April on a seven-year contract to provide home care across the district, has stopped allocating any new work to them until the problems are resolved.

Although the work the carers do is widely praised, many people are strongly critical of the sporadic and unreliable service at the weekends since the takeover and the amount of time allocated to the patients.

Stories have emerged of elderly and vulnerable people lying in bed over the weekends until the afternoon unable to move, get clean or even have a drink or eat because the carers are unable to get to them any sooner.

* One elderly couple were left helpless in bed for more than 21 hours one weekend after being put to bed at 5pm the previous day - the only time carers could attend to them in their busy schedules.

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* Irene Foster, aged 91, from Dalton Street in St Albans, who has end-stage heart failure among a series of other ailments, has gone practically every Saturday and Sunday without a visit from a carer at the weekends.

She lives with her 59-year-old daughter and full-time carer, Marion Foster, who requires help to care for her mother because of her own health problems with the circulation disorder called Reynaud's Disease.

A carer should visit Mrs Foster twice a day and while this is normally the case on Monday to Friday, no cover was provided when one of her two regular carers was off work for a number of days last month.

Marion said: "At the weekend it's 'get a carer if you can'. The carers are very good, it's the office which is the problem - I don't think they have got a brain between them. They don't deserve the contract - it should be taken away from them."

* A 43-year-old disabled woman from St Albans, who did not want to be named, said that since Supporta Care took over she had been unable to plan any sort of life at the weekends because of the irregular visiting times.

She needs help to get washed and dressed in the mornings but on Saturdays and Sundays a carer can turn up anytime between 10am and 3pm.

She said: "It means I can't plan anything and I can't have a normal life. I am far from being the worst affected, there are clients left for hours without water, food or toileting, clients who can't speak out."

* Jennie Page, aged 57, from St Albans who was born with a head tumour and is now paralysed down one side, requires a carer in the mornings but complained of uncertainty at the weekends never knowing what time help would arrive if it did at all.

Jennie also said the carers were very rushed at the weekends and didn't know their patients as well as the regular carers, which raised concerns for elderly and isolated people who didn't have any other visitors.

She added: "If I ran a business like them I would have been fired a long time ago."

* A despairing daughter of a 91-year-old dementia sufferer has also reported problems with Supporta Care and finds herself making four trips a day to her mother in between running a business and caring for her own family.

The elderly woman only weighs six-and-a-half stone and can forget to eat unless prompted to do so. But, her daughter said, the carers were only allocated 30 minutes to spend with her which was not enough time for her to finish a meal.

Her daughter gets her mother in and out of bed to create time for the carers and goes back twice in the day to prepare lunch and dinner and also to ensure her mother has eaten the meals.

She said: "I love my mum and I am never going to let her down. That is why I do it - she doesn't deserve poor care. If I'm going out for the day I really have to ring two to three times to make 100 per cent sure they are going to call on mum. I don't feel safe leaving her."

* County Councillor Chris White has heard about an elderly stroke patient being left in her wheelchair without support and he has called on social services to get a grip of the home care services in St Albans.

He said: "It is absolutely evident that there has been a serious breakdown right across the board - the contract with Supporta Care is not working.

"Vulnerable members in our community have the right to have a reliable service - and a service which is available at the weekends. I am not convinced by assurances that there will be no repeats. There is clearly something fundamentally wrong."

He added: "I am becoming more and more concerned about the direction being taken by HCC over adult care services. Too much is being left to the vagaries of the private sector."

Supporta Care took over from three care providers - Sage, MPM and Goldsborough Home Care - after HCC's nine-month retendering process.

Managing director of Supporta Care, Bernadette Walsh, acknowledged this week that there had been problems and apologised to the clients but said the company was working in partnership with the county council to resolve the issues.

She denied the scarcity of care at the weekends was caused by lack of staff and said that the problems were largely due to transitional arrangements.

A spokesperson for Adult Care Services at HCC said: "We are aware of the problems and are working with the provider to remedy the situation as quickly as possible. This is not an acceptable situation and not the standard of care we expected when we entered into a contract with Supporta Care.

"Until these problems are resolved, we have decided in collaboration with Supporta Care not to place any new work with them at the moment.