Care workers… The unsung heroes of our nation. There is without any doubt, that it is one of the hardest jobs out there, both physically and emotionally. I know, i spent nearly 15 years in both Geriatric Care and Mental Health Care. It is a job with very little thanks, long hours, and very little pay, considering the work involved and the dangers of said job.
I have never met any care worker, who did not love their job, and I include myself in that, it is, for the mainstay, a largely rewarding job, with the exception of financially. Why is this? Why does the care industry push their workers so hard and pay them so little?
Greed. Purely and simply put, greed. I have worked in many care homes over the years, but they all had one thing in common. They were all privately owned. I have many friends who have worked in Local Council run homes, and say that the standard of care is better and they pay also much more relevant to the job, kinda proving my point about the greed of private care companies, and their focus, which of course is to maximise profits and minimise outlay.
On my very first day in care, in about 1999, MY VERY FIRST DAY, I saw a member of staff, an experienced, highly trained member of staff at that, flick a resident with a rubber glove repeatedly, questioning him on why he would be doing something like this, he replied “I’m bored, and its fun…”
Well, he and I had a bit of a barney… which resulted in me pinning him up against a wall and throwing him out of the back door down a flight of steps, my language, as I recall was probably a little less cordial than he was used to… Quite rightly, I was reprimanded for this action, even though it took place outside of the sight of the residents, and away from any other members of staff, my actions were rash and inappropriate for the situation.
However, upon explaining the reason for this “altercation” to the management, at my “interview without coffee” I was informed that no action would be taken against him, as I was the only person to have seen it and it was my word against his. Bear in mind also, this was well before the days of the now commonplace “whistle-blowing” policy most, if not all care homes/agencies now employ, to guard against this kind of thing. He continued to work on, however it was made sure he and I were never working the same shift again, and I never saw him again in my 3 years at said care home.
The reluctance of the management to fire said member of staff (I haven’t mentioned his name, for the simple fact I can’t remember it, I however would like to point out that had I been able to, I would have no qualms in naming and shaming him publicly) was down to one factor. Money. Because he was trained to do a nurses job (he had done the safe medicines handling course and a few others which qualified him to do some of the tasks a nurse would) It meant that they were unlikely to find someone as qualified who WASN’T a RGN, and hiring a RGN would cost 4 times as much as he does. This is NOT my interpretation of events, this was actually told to me by the assistant manager, who, unlike the owner/manager, was very good at her job, and shared the same kind of quality care values I did.
Throughout all the improvements, the Care Quality Commission have made to safeguard against abuse of the elderly and the vulnerable, corners are still being cut. Training is poor, wages are low and hours are long. I myself, have worked 84 hour weeks (that’s twelve-hour shifts, seven days of the week) for 3 months running, without a day off, for minimum wage. In the course of my duties, I was spat at, kicked, punched, bitten and had faeces thrown at me along as other things such as scalding hot coffee/tea and had cigarettes flicked at me. It’s not all just about wiping arses and feeding.
A lot of people outside the industry fail to realise what goes on, and why care workers deserve better pay. Most just think it’s helping to feed and toilet. Nothing could be further from the truth.
I recall in my last job, a rehabilitative and specialist mental health care unit, I was changing a resident with Parkinson’s Disease, who was doubly incontinent and had to wear inco-pants (a politically correct term for an adult nappy). He was on the whole a nice fella, but on the day in question, he was a little bit cranky. As I was changing him (traditionally a 2 person job, but guess what, we were short-staffed so I got the pleasure all on my onesie) he suddenly got aggressive, and stood up from the toilet, staggered over to me, and started swinging his fists. The emergency buzzer, was on the other side of the room, and he had backed me up against the door. Now, im a big fella, a rugby player, so I can take a few knocks, after all, bruises heal. But I’m up against the wall, with him swinging his fists, thinking “I’m gunna have to take a kicking here, as there is absolutely nothing I can do to stop it” for restraint, and use of force, is absolutely no-go within the care industry, and is classed as abuse. Fortunately, I managed to calm him within a short space of time, to this day, quite how I managed that is beyond me, as adrenalin was rushing through my body like you wouldn’t believe. And for these sort of dangerous situations, which I’m fairly certain that every carer has experienced at least once in their career, we are paid minimum wage.
The problems within the industry, seem to come, not from the carers, but the management, and particularly the middle management. Most homes now are owned by a large care companies, seldom are homes now independent, because of the huge costs involved, and the management of care companies, on the whole, in my experience tends to be well set-up and run very well. However, their choice in middle management, in my experience tends to be poor. And being such a large company, the senior management don’t always have the time to ensure things are being run properly, and more often than not, care standards suffer because of this.
And as a rule, anyone who goes against middle management, tends to have a very short career in care work, regardless of their experience or how good they are at their job. Indeed this, is the very reason, I have worked in so many care homes, in many different branches of the industry. I will not tolerate low levels of care, and I make sure that everyone knows that if standards fall below my level of expectations, people are going to be pulled up on this. After all, what is the point of working in “Care” if you are going to tow the line blindly and not do your job to the best of your ability? After all, promoting high care standards should be one of the most important facets of the job, secondary only to PROVIDING high standards of care to the residents.
Middle management, in my experience, tend to be the carers worst enemy. It’s a sad indictment of a failing care industry that this is so, but more often than not, budgets are stretched and care falls by the wayside. Not, and I’d like to make this perfectly plain, by the carers themselves, but by the pen-pushers, often with no experience of caring, often qualified in a different field, and often, with no more idea of how to provide care than a cheese-sandwich.
The failure to make sure there is enough staff, more often than not is the culprit, expecting 2 carers, to do 5 carers work, is impossible, yet I have seen it happen, on more occasions than I care to remember, and the outcome is always exactly the same. Care standards slip, because, whilst they do they best they can, carers are NOT supermen/women and actually have limitations. This is something that is often, and too readily dismissed by middle management, and often, because care workers, being the type of people they are, tend to say nothing and get on with the job, no matter what limitations and restrictions are placed on them.
The mental health company I worked at was charging £7000 a week PER RESIDENT, regardless of care needs, IE a resident (or service user as we’re officially supposed to call them) with low care needs, was charged exactly the same as a resident with high care needs, IE Huntingdon’s or Parkinson’s disease. £7k a week? and for this, the carers were paid minimum wage. The very people who do the work, take the flak, and endanger themselves on a daily basis. Lets be honest here though, in a system which doesn’t allow care workers any entitlement to self-defence, a greater level of protection is needed, as not everyone is able to take knocks as well as, for example, I am.
Danger money, also, should be a national pre-requisite for care workers. The story outlined above, is only one of many examples I could mention, I also used to get punched on a daily basis by an ex army boxing champion who, quite understandably didn’t like being woken up at stupid o’clock to be removed from bed. And let me tell you, old he may have been, but he had a hell of a right hook on him, and more than once was I left with a fat lip, or a black eye because of this.
So, I ask this: Who exactly is looking out for the carers? There is, as I write, to my knowledge, no carers specific union, something I think urgently needs redressing. Whilst we’re busy, quite rightly safeguarding against abuse of the elderly and vulnerable, what actions are taken to ensure the safety of the carers? Who, let’s be honest, have the right to work in a safe environment. Ok, you could argue the position that “they know the risks when they take the job” but other jobs involving risk of physical injury have danger money, so why are care work/nursing/medical staff in general not afforded the same right?
I’ll tell you why. Because while the labour is cheap, carers are ten-a-penny. By upping the wage for carers and including danger money, care companies risk the work force standing up for themselves, by placing value on their positions. Something which is not commonplace, as for all intents and purposes, no value is placed on the care worker. Of course, this differs in some places, but on the whole, while the labourers are cheap, they will be continued to be treated as such.
Greater emphasis needs to be placed on the value of care workers, more respect should be afforded to them, and they should be paid in accordance to their work. Only then, will we see standards of care rise, only then will we see less problems in the “broken” care industry, and only then, will we see a respect for human life based less on their value and earning potential, and more on human life itself.