Staff misgivings, but social work bosses stress no cuts in quality of home care

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SOCIAL work bosses have admitted there have been “teething problems” with a major revamp to Scottish Borders Council’s home care service which has seen more work transferred to private providers, a cut in the number of locally-based line managers and a change in shift patterns.

But both acting social work director Elaine Torrance and senior home care manager Annette Fleming insisted this week they have received no complaints from service users as a result of the changes.

“On the contrary, the feedback we get from the people we care for and their families continues to be positive,” said Mrs Torrance.

However, TheSouthern has received a number of communications on behalf of disgrunted SBC carers in the last 18 months when new rotas were introduced and moves began to centralise the service.

This dissent has increased recently, with allegations that council carers now have to “clock on and clock off” when visiting clients, that key line managers who allocate work are being shed, that carers occasionally have to work double shifts and that travelling time between clients has also been cut. “It’s all about saving money and the carers have to go by the clock at all times,” said one source who does not wish to be named.

“There have been cutbacks in each office which is not good as we rely on these line managers to distribute the work. One female line manager in the Kelso office finished last week after being told she was no longer compatible with a job she has done since 1999. As a result of these cutbacks, mistakes will be made and I fear it is the poor old folk who will suffer.”

Underpinning the changes is the political decision made by councillors three years ago to reduce the ratio of home care work carried out by SBC to that delivered by private providers from 70:30 to 40:60. The upshot is that the number of council carers, who earn about £2 an hour more than their private sector counterparts, has fallen from 420 to 350 by natural wastage, and recruitment has been frozen. In addition, the number of line managers at local offices – 20 at the start of this year – is due to be reduced to 13 at the end of the year, although re-deployment is offered.

“Our aim is to ensure a quality service is provided and delivered to the right people at the right time for the right price,” said Mrs Fleming.

Addressing the “clocking on” claim, Mrs Fleming said a new IT system, called real time monitoring (RTM) had been introduced with each carer now provided with a smart-type mobile phone.

“This streamlines processes and administration, quickly highlights if visits have been missed and ensures that an alternative carer can attend,” she told us. “We thus meet the Care Inspectorate requirement for carers to log in and out of visits.

“As with any new system, there have been several technical difficulties, but managers are addressing these as they arise and supporting our staff.

“This system has now been rolled out across the region and carers are getting used to it. It means staff can be flexible, making themselves available if a visit only lasts, at the service user’s request, for, say, 10 minutes, while also allowing longer periods to be spent with clients if that is necessary.

“Travel time has been identified as an area of concern by staff...but, in general, payment for this, easily calculated by the logging in and out system, has increased so carers are not out of pocket.

“Managing the service on a Borders-wide basis is required to ensure an equitable service, allowing us to reduce our costs while maintaining quality.

“We do recognise these changes cause some anxiety for staff, but we are doing all we can to support them.”

Mrs Torrance cited a recent letter in TheSouthern from the sister of a man receiving palliative care from SBC in his own home in Jedburgh.

The letter praised the “dedicated and devoted” care he had received towards the end of his life.

“That is typical of the feedback we get and, while it is true that staff are having to adapt to a new culture, I can state we have had no complaints from service users or their families,” said Mrs Torrance.

Although the system is being centralised, Mrs Fleming said there no plans to close the offices in Kelso, Duns, Hawick, Peebles and Galashiels.

Tracy Renton, an SBC carer who works out of the Kelso office, told us: “The new phones took a wee bit getting used to, but we are now getting the hang of them and it’s actually an improvement on what we had before.

“Continuity of care has been maintained and it’s satisfying to know that we can always be where we are needed most and that our service users will not suffer.”