Careforce could lose city home help contract

A private home help company has been warned its contract in Norwich could yet be terminated for what county councillors branded “unacceptable” standards of care.

One county councillor accused Careforce of putting people’s lives at risk after problems with its contract to provide care to pensioners in the city meant elderly people had been left home alone, unfed and unwashed.

The transfer of care provision by the county council to the Stevenage-based firm sparked dozens of complaints in February and saw elderly people going without visits.

Bosses at Careforce said the problems were caused because lower than anticipated numbers of staff transferred over from the previous provider, staff decided not to transfer at the last minute, rostered staff failed to turn up to work without notice and there were difficulties with IT and phonelines.

Working together with Age Concern Norwich and Age Concern Norfolk, the county council commissioned a survey which showed almost 62pc of respondents (197 of the 318) experienced problems.

Norfolk County Council intends to stick with the contract but has agreed to write to 525 people who receive care from the company to ask if they want to switch.

When the issue was discussed at a meeting of the county council’s adult social services overview and scrutiny panel yesterday, the firm was left under no illusions that councillors and officers expected an improvement or the contract would be terminated.

David Harwood, cabinet member for adult social services, said: “The circumstances around this have been difficult but at the end of the day we are about to offer people the opportunity to move.

“If we find people remain with problems then that is another situation and I think we would have to seriously look at the contract and what we would do with that. Do not get the mistaken idea that I would not cut the cord and say that’s enough.”

David Callaby, Liberal Democrat councillor for Fakenham, said: “This is not a good report and is disgusting, really. Somebody could have died and we could have been sitting around this table talking about an inquest which was saying we were liable for that.”

Harold Bodmer, director of adult social services said: “I want to reassure the panel that the easiest option is to terminate the contract and the more difficult approach is the one we are planning to take which is to work through it to sort out what the 500 plus people want to do.

“We are doing that not because it is the easy option but because we do not want to disrupt those people who do want to stay with Careforce.”

Alan Long, chief executive for Careforce, said: “We are totally committed to the contract and we are determined to put it right. We have made significant progress and are supportive of the recommendations the council is making.”

He said two of the main reasons for the problems were around a surge in new referrals and in the number of care workers the company had available – because workers due to transfer from the previous provider changed their minds at the last minute.

He said: “Our plans were based on people who a week or even two days before they were about to start work suddenly said they would not transfer to us and would not be turning up.

“What happened here I have not experienced before. We kind of expected people who were telling us they were going to start are going to start and we had a responsibility to provide those people with work, so we had planned accordingly.

“There were care workers on the Sunday who were due to start on the Monday telling us they weren’t coming in and that was down to the activity of the original provider.”