15 minute care worker visits harming vulnerable people

Recent research by Unison found that many Councils are scheduling 15-minute "flying" visits for home care, leaving care staff embarrassed by the level of care they are able to provide to vulnerable people.

Staff who undertake social care visits should spend at least 30 minutes helping to keep people well, according to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). The national healthcare advisory service has expressed concern that shorter visits may compromise the dignity and well-being of the recipient.

What is "home care"?

Around half a million mainly elderly people in England currently receive home care, a term which covers personal services provided in people's homes such as help with getting up, washing, dressing, eating and taking medication. Local councils organise the service, although provision is often outsourced to external care agencies.

Unlike NHS services, home care is paid for by the recipient and/or their families. Only the poorest receive a financial contribution from their local authority.

The Unison Research

Unison submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the 152 local authorities with responsibility for social care and gathered received feedback from 1,100 care staff via an online survey. They found that:

  • Almost three-quarters of councils scheduled 15-minute visits for home care, up from 69% in the previous year.
  • 50% of care staff had been asked to provide care for people they had not met before, indicating a lack of continuity of care.
  • 75% of care staff reported that they did not have enough time to provide sufficient care and were embarrassed by the level of care they were able to provide in the allotted time.

Concerns About Flying Care Visits

Unison's findings highlight long-standing concerns about the practice of commissioning care appointments of 15 minutes or less. Rushed care visits mean that many vulnerable people may be choosing between getting dressed or eating breakfast that day, and stressed care workers are more likely to make mistakes such as medication errors.

For some people, the time they spend with a care worker is the only human interaction they have. There is evidence that late, missed or shortened visits cause significant distress and leave clients feeling vulnerable and undervalued.

Current legislation

The NICE recommendations are advisory, not mandatory. Legislative guidance is set out in the Care Act 2014 which specifies that 15-minute visits are not appropriate for the delivery of intimate care and should be limited to safety or medication checks wherever possible. Local authorities are expected to follow the statutory guidance unless they can demonstrate sound reasons for not doing so.

However, the Care Quality Commission does not have any powers to challenge local authority commissioning practices. Essentially, councils are left to regulate themselves with many citing funding pressures as the reason for their rigid clock-watching.

Claiming compensation against the local authority

Local authorities are obliged to provide a safe and sensitive home care service.

Elderly and vulnerable people are entitled to adequate support with vital tasks such as washing and eating, and should expect to receive respectful and vigilant care.

Where an accident or error occurs due to a council or local authority's negligence, and a care recipient is harmed as a result, it may be possible to make a claim for compensation.

For more information about starting a claim, or to make an injury claim on behalf of a friend or family member, contact Quittance on 0800 612 7456.