Our elderly deserve more than mediocre care from low paid workers (24 April 2012)

Like myself, many of you will have watched last nights Panorama programme Undercover: Elderly Care.  It was a truly horrific programme that focussed on the care of one elderly woman who suffers with dementia.  

That woman is Maria Worroll and she was treated horrifically in Ash Court Care Centre in  London.  Suffering from dementia Maria was subjected to abuse that stemmed from staff ignoring her as a human being to treating her like a piece of meat with no regard to her or her rights, and why? Because she couldn’t stand up for herself and tell the world that the system in which she relied upon to provide her with care and to treat her with dignity and humanity and to above all, protect her from all abuses was, in fact, failing her.  Maria was being subjected to various kinds of verbal and physical abuse at this care home and while five staff were eventually sacked, only one was convicted.  

The Care Quality Commission gave this care facility a glowing report last October but there is no surprise there.  The CQC are continually coming under fire for their failure to pick up on care facilities where abuses are rife.  

Should the four staff at Ash Court who were not convicted have been sacked? Yes.  That’s an easy answer.  They treated a human being like an animal tossing her from side to side while they tended to her personal hygiene.  They didn’t talk to her.  They didn’t explain what they were doing, they didn’t treat her as if she had any dignity.  They failed in every aspect to provide her with care.  

The same applies to assisting Maria with her meals.  The video footage shows a carer entering the room to “feed” Maria with her breakfast with no communication about the breakfast and no real care.  She essentially shovelled the food into Maria Worroll, causing her to choke in one instance.

I went to a training session once that concerned all of this.  I was blind folded and a carer arrived saying that they were there to “feed” me.  With no warning, all of a sudden a spoon filled with salmon hit my mouth.  I jerked my head away but was still forced at least part of this spoonful.  I hate salmon.  My protestations where met with “now come on, you have to eat”.  Yes, this was all acting but reflects reality.  A second mouthful smashed my lips, this time peas.  I hate peas.  “Now come on, your daughter will be upset if you don’t eat.”

I can refuse to eat those things and no one bats an eyelash because I can actually tell people why I don’t like salmon and peas but someone like Maria can’t and what happens is they clench their mouths, refuse to eat that and they become “difficult” to manage.  Well, in poor care homes that is true.  In care home that actually acknowledge their residents likes and dislikes their carers will realise and remember them.

This Panorama programme highlights the very, very poor care that, sadly, a growing percentage of our elderly population receives, but why are they receiving it?

I’ll take the simple approach here.  I won’t quote facts and figures but I’ll simply point out that society doesn’t really notice or care what happens to our elderly until there is something shocking like last nights Panorama which stuffs it in the face of society.

My grandparents and those of my grandparents generation fought for this country.  They made sure that we have the freedom that we have now, the freedom to live how we like and to basically say what we like.  They gave us a life we could live out how we pleased and we repaid them with a society that says they are at the mercy of the mood of the carers who their care homes employed for a minimum wage.

And now we reach the problem.

If you pay a mediocre amount you will get mediocrity as a result.  No one will exhaust themselves and put themselves out for a minimum wage unless they are truly devoted to the cause and even the most devoted carers won’t kill themselves for minimum wage.

This is a sad wedge that care of the elderly finds itself in.  It is, traditionally, a very low paid job, something to be taken up if you have spare time on your hands because you’re raising kids, if you’re in education and need some extra cash, if you have higher qualifications in another country but can get paid more for care in the UK.  

What did the elderly in this country do to deserve this contempt?

The answer is – nothing.  They just did what comes naturally.  They grew old but in a society that hasn’t a clue about looking after their older population.  A society where smashing up a war memorial is glossed over and where discussing how to look after the elderly is a taboo subject.  Why are we so bad at looking after our elderly and conserving the symbols which reminds us of what they actually gave us?

This country needs to take a long hard look at how it looks after its elderly population.  It needs to understand the elderly and all the different conditions and situations that come with being old, it needs to make care of the elderly into a proper profession and it needs to treat elderly people as citizens with rights.  It needs to entirely uphold the rights of every elderly person whether represented by themselves or their representative and it needs to stop abuse of the elderly whether in care homes or in their own homes.  In a few, short years the elderly will be…us.

I would like to point out that while there is deep concern in the area of care of the elderly, that I know of some particularly fantastic care homes and, in particular, carers.  These are the people who don’t get a mention in these programmes and whose good work gets buried in amongst the terrible news reports.  You are out there and you do a brilliant job and we all commend you for everything you do.