Tuesday, August 07, 2007


I am writing to explain that the Fremantle Residential Care Homes strikes are far more than issues about pay and terms and conditions.

Care Standards.
This campaign is growing as more people recognise that this is much more than just an issue about pay but about Care Standards and how we monitor them. Fremantle Care Workers formerly employed by London Borough of Barnet are all highly trained. It is their professionalism and high standards that has driven them to make a stand over what they see as a deterioration in standards of care within their workplaces.

They are not the only ones to notice it, CSCI inspectors have also recently commented on staffing levels. Barnet UNISON is concerned by the deployment of apprentices in some settings working for £4.45 an hour. We understand that these staff are not supernumary (as Fremantle claim) and have challenged Fremantle to confirm these staff are not being left alone with highly dependent residents.

What we are seeing in this campaign is the growing realisation amongst staff, relatives, carers that it is no longer acceptable to settle for second or third best when talking about services for older people. How many times have we heard politicians talk about the increasing burdening cost of social care? Yet in the same breadth we are told we are the 5th largest economy in the world!

Every one of us will sooner or later come into contact with someone receiving care either in a hospital, residential or nursing home or day services. Don’t we all want to be sure when we leave our family members or friends in their care; that the highest standards are provided? When one watches a TV documentary exposing abuse of older people by visiting care staff, who doesn’t shake their heads with incredulity that someone could do that to another vulnerable human being?

But it can easily happen and it is easily explained.

For example, an agency worker turns up at a care home for her first day. She has to help 3 residents to wash and change and have breakfast. All the residents are highly dependent. She doesn’t have time to read the notes, doesn’t have time because of the pressure on staff (due to minimum staffing levels) to help residents get ready for breakfast. Perhaps she was distracted or simply not trained but one of the residents is left on a toilet for 30 minutes before a regular member of staff responds to the alarm in the toilet. Whilst providing one of the residents with some tea the agency worker puts the cup down and fails to let the resident (partially sighted) know. The resident puts her fingers in the hot tea.

Is this brief scenario real? Yes it is. It is but a glimpse as to how abuse and that’s what this is, can start. One of the many problems we have with Fremantle is that they have not been able to deal with the blunt truth that Barnet is in London not Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire. They already had a recruitment and retention problem before they took away the former Barnet Council employed staff terms and conditions it is now even harder to recruit permanent staff.

Public money
Last week at a Cabinet Resources committee (19 July 2007) we learnt that Catalyst Housing (Housing Association partner of Fremantle has made a Deficit claim for £8.672 million. This is the same organisation (then called Ealing & Family Housing Association) that was given 12 prime real estate locations as part of the deal to modernise our 12 residential and day care settings. That’s right they were given land belonging to Barnet residents as part of a deal and now they are coming back with a claim for more money. It doesn’t end there. Part of the deal was for them to rebuild 5 settings, they have only built 3.

It doesn’t make sense does it? Catalyst get their maths wrong, then Catalyst ask Barnet residents to foot the bill.

Barnet UNISON in 1999 said the ‘sell off ’it didn’t make sense and we were right. What this debacle demonstrates is that selling off Barnet residents assets does not always make good business sense. It is clear from the Cabinet Resources report of last week that the contract with Catalyst ‘is not financially viable’. In that case we should bring the contract back in-house and the real estate assets returned to Barnet residents.

Local community
90% of those working in these Fremantle care homes and day care settings are also Barnet residents paying Council Tax, rents, mortgages, fuel bills, sending their kids to Barnet Schools. Driving down terms & conditions does have an impact on the local community. It also drives down pay in the private & voluntary sector care service provision.

Do we as a community and society in general think so little about those who care? Think about it for a moment. Does anyone really believe that someone on the minimum wage will want to stay in that job for long? Who hasn’t heard ‘my carers keep changing, I just get to know them and they are off’ It isn’t rocket science you pay people crap pay they either leave or more worryingly they take on another additional job. It is common knowledge that those working on low pay have to have more than one job. When caring for others the last thing you need is a overtired care worker, it is another reason how abuse can happen in the workplace.

Individualised care budgets
Another brilliant idea from Government, or is it?
The spin is that it will provide greater choice and flexibility and choice for those requiring services. If it was that simple. Perhaps I am just too cynical but when something like this comes along claiming that not only will it provide more choice, more flexibility BUT it will cost less I quickly look to the skies looking for flying pigs.

This new scheme is being piloted in 13 Councils around the country. However Barnet Council is not waiting for the outcome of the evaluation and is implementing this Scheme for Barnet residents. Barnet UNISON has requested urgent talks and is looking to facilitate a Public meeting this autumn to discuss the implications for services users, carers and staff.

If it is not clear already the Fremantle Care Workers campaign is about Care standards, public money, and local communities.

John Burgess
Branch Secretary

1 comment:

Jon Rogers said...

absolutely right John - defending the pay and conditions of public servants and defending public services is part of the same fight