15 minute home care visits in England on the rise

The number of councils in England commissioning 15 minute home care visits has risen in the past year, despite a commitment from the Government to clamp down on rushed visits, is the shock finding of a new UNISON study.  

A Freedom of Information request, which 98% of councils in the country responded to, revealed that 74% of local authorities still commission 15 minute visits. This compares to 69% in the same survey last year. 

The study revealed that 110 councils commission 15 minute visits. On average 15 minute visits make up 14%, or one in seven, of all the homecare visits commissioned by these 110 councils.

The Care Minister Norman Lamb made a clear statement last year that 15 minutes is not enough time for a home care visit, and that the Care Quality Commission (CQC) would look at it. However the newly introduced CQC inspection makes no specific reference to curbing the use of 15 minute care visits. The CQC only has powers to inspect and challenge care providers but it has no powers to challenge councils when they commission care through 15 minute visits. 

UNISON General Secretary Dave Prentis said: 

“It is a scandal that 15 minute visits are on the rise despite assurances from the Government that it would crack down on rushed visits. What we are seeing is the institutionalisation of dangerously low levels of care which which compromises the dignity of the elderly and vulnerable people in our community who rely on this care, and places unfair pressures on homecare workers. 

“The Government is cutting council budgets by 40% while the need for care continues to rise. This forces councils to spread the care budget thinner and thinner trying to make it go round. This symbolises all that is wrong with our increasingly undignified and underfunded care system.”

When the Government passed the 2014 Care Act it made the conscious decision not to give the CQC any powers to regulate or challenge local authority commissioning practices. This is despite calls from unions, providers and service user groups that it should do so, and concerns from CQC itself about the inadequacy of leaving councils to regulate themselves.

The Government has indicated that it will include guidance on 15 minute visits in the Care Act, but this guidance will not form part of statutory regulations. This means that it will not be strong enough to reverse the widespread practice of 15 minute visits which is driven by spending cuts. 

Dave Prentis went on to say:

“We know from our members working in home care that 15 minute visits are not just being used for medication prompts, but that home care workers are being forced to deliver personal care in 15 minutes.

“The Government’s decision to sit on its hands flies in the face of its earlier commitment to stamp out the practice of rushed homecare visits.  For some people, the time they spend with a home care worker is the only human interaction they may have on that day.” 

One home care worker at a council that commissions 15 minute visits said: 

“On my run there are a number of fifteen minute visits. And on the run I have just been given, one visit is to a man in his mid-nineties who is very frail and slow to move, especially in the morning.

“I have been given fifteen minutes to go into his house wake him up assist him to the bathroom, give him a shower, help him get him dry and dressed and then make his breakfast and prompt and make sure he takes his medication.  I have told my organiser that this takes at least around thirty to forty-five minutes. Her reply was that other workers can do it in this time.”