Page last updated at 17:44 GMT, Sunday, 15 June 2008 18:44 UK

Concerns over private care firms

By Mark Daly
BBC Scotland investigations correspondent

Robert Anderson and carer
Robert Anderson's previous care company had to be replaced

Serious concerns about two of the country's largest private homecare companies have been revealed in a BBC Scotland investigation.

Domiciliary Care and HRM Homecare provide almost 15,000 hours of care per week to the most vulnerable sections of Scottish society.

Ex-workers accused them of putting profits before people's welfare.

Both companies denied the allegations but HRM has promised to investigate fully the BBC's claims.

Private sector

More than 70,000 elderly and disabled Scots have carers coming into their homes, allowing them to retain some independence.

About a third of these services, which are paid for by local authorities, are now delivered by the private sector.

The allegations, which are broadcast on BBC Radio Scotland's The Investigation on Monday morning, include:

  • "cramming" - which means fitting in as many clients in as short a time as possible, irrespective of how long they have been allocated
  • poorly-trained staff
  • carers not turning up
  • companies falsely charging local authorities for work that is not being done.

The two companies investigated won contracts totalling about 4m last November in South Lanarkshire.

The contracts were awarded after a controversial reverse e-auction where the lowest bidder stood the best chance of winning.

HRM homecare, whose head office is in Prestwick, Ayrshire, also has contracts all over South West Scotland.

Until recently Carol Walkinshaw, 29, worked in the Lanark office and was in charge of coordinating the workers' rotas.

She said the company charged the council for the work whether or not it was carried out.

Ms Walkinshaw said: "We'd be so short-staffed that we'd have to try and cram everybody in."

She added: "Ten minutes for a half hour visit was normal.

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Carol Walkinshaw talks to the BBC's Mark Daly

The BBC has seen internal documents which showed that managers in HRM were not only aware that cramming was going on but were complicit in the practice.

Cramming in Domiciliary Care was also common practice, according to a former employee who asked not to be named.

She said: "You would be lucky if you got 15 minutes per visit, even if the clients were allocated an hour.

"The company used drivers to ferry the workers around.

"They'd drop you off at a client's house and would be peeping the horn after 10 or 15 minutes to hurry you up and you might be doing something like cleaning up vomit or trying to feed an elderly person."

But she said the elderly clients rarely complained. They were just thankful for what they got.

Karin Fair's father Robert Anderson, 98, from Rutherglen, South Lanarkshire, is a WWII veteran.

She said Domiciliary Care failed to look after him properly and that they replaced the company.

There was no continuity of care workers, which upset her father.

She said: "The people were not even doing the basic things, like changing a wet bed.

"Sometimes he would even be put into a wet bed at night."

Mrs Fair said the staff seemed to be under enormous pressure to rush, would rarely stay for the allocated time and sometimes did not turn up at all.

Regulatory body The Care Commission has received 18 complaints about Domiciliary Care, 12 of which have been upheld or partially upheld.

The company has twice been put on "enhanced monitoring" by council bosses at North Lanarkshire Council over concerns about performance.

Officials increased their monitoring of the company between May and December 2006 and between March and July last year, to address performance issues.

Domiciliary Care categorically denies allegations of poor performance.

A spokesman for HRM said that it had never had a complaint in South Lanarkshire.

He added: "Nonetheless, the issues raised by the BBC will be fully investigated by us and the independent regulatory authority in an effort to further improve the standard of care we provide."

You can hear this investigation on BBC Radio Scotland at 0900 BST on Monday 16 June, or listen again via our website.




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