New radio drama highlights the plight of care workers pushed to their limits

A care worker, whose personal campaign to end the indignity suffered by thousands of elderly people during 15-minute homecare visits, is the inspiration behind a new play to be broadcast every day this week on BBC Radio 4, says her union UNISON.

Flying Visits is loosely based on the experiences of care worker Caroline Firmin who, like many care workers across the UK, was being allocated just quarter of an hour to look after each of the elderly and vulnerable people on her patch.

Frustrated with the difficult and often impossible decisions it was forcing her to make, Caroline gave a heartfelt speech to councillors at Southwark Council, the South London borough responsible for commissioning care services.

Caroline described the impossibility of trying to deliver a basic standard of care in such a short space of time. As a result, Southwark Council abolished 15-minute visits and became one of the first local authorities to adopt UNISON’s ethical care charter*.

Despite the difficulties of caring for people with complex needs in such a short time period, 15-minute visits are still being commissioned by around a fifth of councils in England and Wales, says UNISON.

These fleeting appointments are meant to meet all the elderly or vulnerable person’s needs for the day, but often fall well short of what’s required, says UNISON.

The drama stars BAFTA-winning actress Claire Rushbrook as the lead figure, Hayleigh. Each episode will last 15 minutes, the same length of time many workers are allocated to administer care.

Playwright Charlotte Bogard Macleod said: “I’ve always been obsessed by time and wondered what could be achieved in a quarter of an hour. From Jamie Oliver’s meal plans to Andy Warhol’s fame, 15 minutes is an iconic slot of time.

“Research led me to an article about homecare workers and the flying visits they are forced to make. It seemed extraordinary that as a society we could allow so little time to care for the elderly and most vulnerable.

“For the Flying Visits research I talked to care workers, homecare companies, councillors, MPs, doctors and government ministers.  All were struggling with a system that clearly wasn’t working and all agreed social care was in crisis. But two years on, nothing has changed. It’s time to fix that now.”

Commenting on the drama, UNISON national care officer Matt Egan – who helped Charlotte with her research – said: “This drama shines a light on a national scandal that must end.

“Care workers and the people they look after are being pushed to breaking point as dangerously short care visits have become the new norm.

“The elderly and those dedicated to caring for them are being failed by a government that’s slashed councils’ care budgets, requiring workers to do more and more in less and less time. This not only puts huge stress on employees, it also denies dignity to the vulnerable people they’re trying to help.

“In his first speech on the steps of Downing Street, the new Prime Minister pledged to fix social care. He must act now to save a system that’s creaking at the seams.”

Notes to editors:
– Flying Visits is to be broadcast every day this week at 10.45am on BBC Radio 4 immediately after Woman’s Hour. Caroline the care worker and Charlotte the playwright are both available for interview on request.Matt Matt
-*UNISON’s ethical care charter aims to help local councils improve homecare for the vulnerable people they’re responsible for. It’s a set of commitments that councils make that fix minimum standards to protect the dignity and quality of life for those people and the workers who care for them. It includes paying homecare staff for their travel time, ending 15-minute visits and ensuring care workers earn at least the real living wage (currently £9 an hour, £10.55 in London).
– Southwark Council was one of the first local authorities to sign UNISON’s charter. Southwark Councillor Jasmine Ali, Cabinet Member for Children, Schools and Adult Care said: “We knew that it was absolutely the right thing to do. Under the ethical care charter there have been many positive changes. The council has been able to better hold on to its care staff and the people they care for are happier with the service provided. Homecare services provide essential support and help people to live safely and independently. The high quality of these services is essential.”
– UNISON is the UK’s largest union, with more than 1.3 million members providing public services – in education, local government, the NHS, police service and energy. They are employed in both the public and private sectors.

Media contacts:
Siobhan Cooley T: 0207 121 5555 M: 07816 538199 E: s.cooley@unison.co.uk
Anthony Barnes T: 0207 121 5255 M: 07834 864794 E: a.barnes@unison.co.uk