Dominic Carter, Policy Officer at the United Kingdom Homecare Association (UKHCA) details how home care can be more flexible and beneficial to the patient’s needs
Homecare is a growing and varied service, focused on providing care and support in people’s own homes, ranging from shorter visits to remind an older person to take their medication, right through to practical support from a care worker living in someone’s home.
In a recent survey, 9 out of 10 people aged 50 years or above said they would prefer their care needs to be met in their own home (Saga/Populus 2014). As, fantastically, more people continue to live longer, healthier lives, homecare workers are increasingly taking on complex health-related tasks, in addition to more traditional activities like washing and preparing meals. The flexibility of homecare can enable the individual, their family and the care provider to shape a care plan focused on the aims and desires of the individual as the focus.
Quality standards in homecare are closely regulated. Provider organisations are expected to quality assure their own services, through client and family feedback surveys, monitoring care workers and spot checks. In addition, there is a dedicated regulator for every country in the UK, who will carry out inspections, monitor a range of information and publish reports on providers’ performance. There is a growing pool of resources to help people choose the care they want, with user ratings included on sites such as www.nhs.uk.
Having access to, and remaining a part of, the local community is important for many people using social care. Care workers often help prevent confining people to the home through trips out and signposting of information, events and other services. This can also be a good opportunity to provide respite for family carers, allowing them to recharge their batteries and in turn, remain as a carer for as long as possible. Care workers, ties with the community and refreshed family carers form a strong trio in combatting loneliness and isolation, a significant societal problem and one that has been closely linked with a negative impact on wider health.
Homecare is vital to relieving pressure on hospitals and A&E units. If low-level support is introduced early enough, there is an increased chance that the situation can be managed, helping to reduce the need for stressful, costly hospital visits further down the line. Additionally, homecare has a particularly important, if rather undervalued, part to play in people’s recovery after leaving the hospital, supporting them to manage their condition, readjust and rebuild independence to do what they wish in their favoured environment.
Despite the vast potential for home care services to help people, there are significant challenges and obstacles. Around 70% of adult home care in England is funded by local authorities, who have seen their budgets slashed by 37% in the 5 years leading to 2015/16. A direct result of this, is the fees paid to providers have fallen in real terms. Fees are expected to cover staff, training and office costs, and the unrealistic level of investment risks a sector struggling to keep ahead of the national minimum wage, creating real issues in terms of recruiting and retaining care workers.
Furthermore, as councils aim to stretch dwindling finances, eligibility criteria have been tightened and fewer people with relatively high needs now receive state-funded care. Reduced eligibility means providers are required to work with more complex needs, yet with the same amount of funding. Sometimes, as widely reported recently, councils will purchase homecare visits of 10 or even 5 minutes.
Thankfully, despite these challenges, the sector is full of dedicated, caring people. As the professional association for homecare, United Kingdom Homecare Association will continue to promote high quality, sustainable care services so that people can continue to live at home and in their local community.
United Kingdom Homecare Association (UKHCA)