Monday, September 28, 2009

Working In Care- Part 1

I got into care as I needed a job (as we all do- you have to earn money somehow or other.) I've done a great deal of temping over the years for lots of different agencies. I've done my share of picking and packing, unloading lorries and making such things as pregnency-testing kits on a production line and even making lasagne for Waitrose supermarkets! I have a background in theatre and stage management and you spend quite a lot of your time between jobs so it's important to be flexible in your work and be prepared to do anything to earn some cash. I also worked as a puppeteer and ran my own puppet company for several years, but it was not exactly what you'd call 'financially viable.' So I needed alternative work. I also worked as a television 'Walk-On' and appeared in some well-known shows, such as 'The Bill', 'EastEnders', 'Lovejoy' and Keeping Up Appearances.' I haven't done any of that work for a few years now, but hope to get back to doing some more when I can find a suitable agency, which is quite difficult, to say the least. I used to do temping in between doing television work.

As I have already stated, I got into care as I needed a job. I worked as a volunteer for MacIntyre about 20 years ago, and I found that I got on with the client group and had a certain affinity with people who had learning disabilities. Then, a few years ago, I worked as a Support Worker in an N.H.S. unit near Bedford, an assessment and treatment unit for people with severe challenging behaviour. And when I mean severe, I mean really severe. I had to leave when I was seriously injured by one of the clients.

Anyway, to cut a long story short. At one time I worked with a young man as a live-in carer (he has cerebral palsy) and I became ill and had to give the job up, basically, because I had a heart attack. When I eventually got back to work I applied for a job as a home carer for an agency in Milton Keynes (I shall leave the name out as I don't want to be sued for deformation as I am going to say some things here which might not be popular.) This was just over two years ago. I had got to the point where I was getting really tired of having to work for two weeks before I got a day of, so in effect I had to work twelve days before I got a day off (which was in actual fact every alternate weekend.) I had a manager who was/is totally inflexible and seemed to think working such hours was perfectly fine. The job also entailed driving between 'calls' (I shall give a better, clearer description below) some of which were on opposite sides of Milton Keynes and in some cases these 'calls' lasted no more than 15 minutes.

I began to look for alternative work and went on the internet and found several sites where you could up load your C.V. and found that there was quite a demand for good, experienced carers, particularly if you were male. I had a few approaches from different companies and could have worked in several places, but decided that in some cases I'd have to drive quite a long distance to get to these places of work. I eventually signed up with a care agency in Milton Keynes which I have done. It takes quite a while to get signed up as you have to have a C.R.B. check (Criminal Records Bureau) and get references, as well as going through an induction course and identity check.

I finished my old job last Friday. I've worked in care for something like 12 years, on and off. I had originally worked with people with learning disabilities, most of it in residential homes, but this job was going around people's homes, helping people who had come out of hospital, or needed basic care, getting them up in the morning, making them meals and going shopping for them. I helped two people who had had strokes. I was hoping that I was going to be able to work with one of them on a more permanent basis. He goes to something called Headway, which is a charity for people who have had brain injuries, and I took him with the group to the Houses of Parliament about six weeks ago and two weeks ago we went to Cadbury World.

I was expected to work weekends. Fair enough, you may ask, as care is needed on a 24/7 basis. It's not the sort of work that fits into a 9 to 5 sort of system, as with other areas of work. I usually did alternate weekends (as do most of the other carers in the company.) But, as I have been working for this 'agency' for over two years and I'd felt for some time that I needed a change. (for some unaccountable reason my manager doesn't like the company being called an 'agency'. Don't ask me why. She said that 'people can't pick and choose when they work.' She really is extremely inflexible.) My wife doesn't work weekends, so the fact that I had to was unfair as we generally like to spend time together at the weekend, so NOT having to work weekends was really what we both wanted. Why can't the stupid woman see that some people don't want to work weekend or, in many cases, can't, due to family or other commitments? Surely, if she had any sense (which I very much doubt) she could employ people who WANT to work specific hours, such as evening, (for example, a woman who has children. When her partner comes home he could do the child-care, while she goes off to work for a few hours). But I don't think the silly woman could see that. I have an idea that the long hours might be contravening working hours legislation. I bet if she had a union to contend with she wouldn't get away with it. Well, thinking about it, it really comes down to money, as the agency is getting paid for each call, a good deal more than we were paid so in the end the actual care element suffers as they attempt to get more and more calls covered. Not really a good way to run a care agency.

I'll explain how I had to work. I was given a work schedule on a Friday, for the following week which showed the times of the various calls and the names of the Service Users (a really clumsy term in my opinion. I prefer 'Client'. Perhaps no worse than 'End User.') I used to start as early as 7 a.m. but as I got rid of my little car several months ago, getting my wife, Carol, to work was difficult. I have to take her first and then go off to do my first call, so my first calls were at 8 a.m. The list of calls has some of the calls starting at, for example, 8 a.m. and ending at 8.30 a.m. and the NEXT call starting at 8.30, and the Service User living several miles away on the other side of Milton Keynes. There is absolutely no account taken for the fact that it will take at least 20 minutes to cross Milton Keynes to get to the next Service User. This isn't always the case, but generally it means that you would be late for the start of the next call, or else you have to leave one Service User 10 -20 minutes early so that you can drive to the next call. Because of this it's a bit like 'robbing Peter to pay Paul.' These people have their calls payed for (by Social Services, or, in some cases, themselves.) so they are, in effect, not getting value for money when you have to leave early, they are still paying for a half-hour call (or some of the calls can be longer, for example, an hour, or whatever.) Then you have to take into consideration traffic, which can be quite heavy between 8-9 a.m. Then, if you do a 'Double-up', (where two carers go to a Service User.) you may get to a Service User to find the other carer is late, for whatever reason, a call elsewhere over runs or they get stuck in traffic. Which then has the knock-on effect of making all you calls later in the day late.

On the top of your week's booked calls (which were usually with the same Service Users.) you were expected to cover calls when staff were sick, or, in a lot of cases, couldn't get to the calls because they didn't want to do them (ie. I used to get one particular call on a Friday evening, at around 5, so I have a sneaking suspicion that the carer wanted to be elsewhere because it was the weekend. It didn't take me long to work that one out.) We, as carers, are expected to have mobile phones, so you'd get the occasional phone call 'John- please go to so-and-so at . . . whenever.' So you'd have to fit these calls into your daily work schedule. As a result, you are supposed to have your mobile switched on all day, ready to answer. In some cases it is a good idea, as sometimes a Service User might not need a call that day, because they have gone into hospital or respite care, or there has been a change somewhere or other. But the fact that you can be called at virtually any time of the day means that your life isn't your own. We got a memo about this some while ago, which said that all this was in our terms of service or something, or the contract we signed when we joined the agency. (Which is a joke, because I didn't receive my contract until after I handed in my notice, so I couldn't read any of this.) I think, if they expect you to have a mobile, and have it on all day, you should at least get some sort of allowance to pay for mobile credit. We did get something for each call we made which was for petrol, but we didn't get a milage allowance for all the driving around. On one week I clocked my milage and it came to around 250 miles. Not only the petrol, but you have to consider the wear on the car. I had to replace all the tyres on the car a few months ago, as they had just about worn thin. And going backwards and forwards over those horrible traffic-calming 'bumps' (or 'Sleeping Policemen' as some people call them.) I also think that all Milton Keynes's roundabouts put a strain on your car, going round and round them. I was also run into on three occasions by other drivers on my daily drives around the place, and all of them on roundabouts. It seems that some drivers don't particularly want to stop on any of the roundabouts and if you get in the way, they'll just run into you.

I did get a certain amount of hilarity out of my time with that company, although it might not have been entirely intentional. We had to attend regular training sessions, all of which were held at the company's tiny office headquarters. The actual sessions were in a relatively small office, which could become really stuffy as so many people were packed into this confined space. This particular session was on 'Emergency Aid.' This manager-lady couldn't spell, and admitted that she couldn't. But, come on, the word 'aid' isn't exactly difficult, so why did she spell it 'aide'? As part of this course (lead by an outside trainer on this occasion.)we had to do mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, and had to use models that could be used to exercise our mouth-to-mouth techniques on. This technique is called Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation or C.P.R. for short. Perhaps it is a good idea for staff to be able to perform this procedure, just in case a client or service user stops breathing, for whatever reason. Well, to get to what I wanted to mention. The trainer showed us how to do this C.P.R. on this dummy, which was a head and part of the chest with working parts, and you had to apply your weight to the chest with the idea that you were drawing air into the dummy's lungs and then give the thing the 'Kiss Of Life' (although we were told that you mustn't call it that now; it's called 'Rescue Breaths.' No doubt the Politically Correct Police have seen to it that it must be re-titled.) Anyway, we had to follow this trainer and do it ourselves, as we would be assessed on this task in order to gain our certificate to show our competence with this aspect of Emergency Care. So, each of us did just that. I have to admit that I don't enjoy being watched when doing something like this, and also I was the only man there doing this task in the midst of around 15-20 females. Well, during this my manageress had to do the task. Everyone had done it on the floor, but she made the excuse that she couldn't do it on the floor. Well, she is a rather large lady, even though she is very short. So, for the part where you had to apply the pumping action to the chest she put the dummy on the bed (which was in the office for demonstrating lifting and handling techniques.) Well, when she did this, all I saw of her 'performance' (for want of a better word.) was her pumping up and down and making the most awful noise, and from where I sat it looked somewhat rude. It took me all my efforts to not burst out laughing because it was really amusing. She also had to 'perform' (for want of a word) what is called 'The Recovery Position', which is used when someone collapses. This monumental lady (she was short of stature, but broad in the beam and so on in other directions!) lay on the floor, on her back. To my mind she resembled nothing more than a beached whale or deflated barrage balloon! I don't expect the rest of the assembled members of the staff of the agency managed to withold laughter as I did that afternoon! I just wished at the time that I had got a video camera with me as I'll really love to have up-loaded it onto YouTube or some such website, so as it share this with the outside world. All I can say is, I just hope if I need any Emergency Aid she wasn't around to do it. Also, she had said that she couldn't 'do it on the floor.' So, what happens to someone, god forbit, if they fall on the floor? Is she going to manage to get down and apply C.P.R., or let them die? I think the rest of the carers who were in the room got a really interesting insight into their 'manageress' that afternoon.

Anyway, I have now finished with that wretched homecare company. I even took all my white shirts back to the office and handed in my I.D. badge. I was under the impression that I could keep the shirts, although, in all honesty, why I would want to keep them I can't think, as I wouldn't want to wear a white short-sleeved polo shirt with a company logo on it. I suppose I could have dyed them, but they aren't particularly nice shirts. I bought a couple of Marks and Spencer white polo shirts for work, and they're far nicer to wear and easier to wash and clean. I suppose because they are better quality than the actual work ones. I now work for another agency based in Milton Keynes and I now don't have to work weekends unless I want to and I don't have to wear a uniform AND I don't have to do all that awful driving.

To add insult to injury I have had my final payslip from 'that homecare company' (I'm actually dieing to say the name, but I think it would be best not to as they may sue me for deformation.) and they've taken back something like £400 of my pay because I had three weeks holiday. I was hoping that the extra cash would help pay for a holiday and one or two other things, but that was rather wishful thinking on my part. Just goes to show the sort of cheapskate organisation I've been working for for the past couple of years. It was somewhat amusing that I received my contract of employment AFTER I handed in my notice. It makes interesting reading. A lot of it is written so that you would never understand it unless you were a lawyer and could cut through the legal language, particularly the section on hours of work and holidays. They obviously got round that one very cleverly, so as to take back all that money.

Myself and my wife Carol had a holiday booked for the October I worked for this 'agency' the first year I worked for them, and it was only a few months into my working for them, and it had been booked well before I started with them, so they couldn't argue with me over having the time off. The following year I was hoping to have the same week off (as Carol is a teacher we can obviously only have school holidays off, during that long summer vacation and half-terms.) I had booked it off, I thought I had, but when I came to ask my manager about this she looked on the holiday year-planner and it turned out that she hadn't marked my holiday on it. More likely she had forgotten, stupid woman. I just got a mouthful of abuse from the awful woman. Then, this year, she made it patently obvious that I wouldn't be able to have any time off in August (to coincide with school holidays) when she said, and in front of me and Carol 'and don't even THINK of having August off!!' which was really mean of the stupid woman as she knew full well that I'd ask for that time off. It was obvious that everyone else had got their holidays planned for that period and I'd be left NOT having a holiday, although I did get two week's off during May, although we didn't go anywhere in particular as we really couldn't afford to. It just goes to show that she wasn't really that bothered about her staff, considering that she was in charge of a so-called 'care' agency.
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