Care home staff hit out at ‘disgusting’ treatment of elderly

FORMER carers of a pensioner who died amid a probe into the standard of at-home support he received have told how the private firm behind his care package had failed him.

John Gibson, 90, was supposed to receive four daily visits but was rushed to hospital after being found bleeding in his Bellevue home last Tuesday. One source said the man had been “left to rot” despite receiving a full care package.

Today, ex-employees of the private firm paid by Edinburgh City Council to tend to Mr Gibson and sister Thomasina broke their silence to accuse Mears Group PLC of a catalogue of errors, including ignoring reports that the pair were not being given medication and that vital visits to clients were missed because care staff were “too busy”.

Donald Nixon, 54, who cared for Mr and Ms Gibson for four months, said concerns he raised about their standard of care were routinely dismissed by company bosses while another carer, who spoke anonymously, said they were not surprised to read about the “squalid” conditions under which Mr Gibson was living during his final days because of the pressure heaped on the staff.

It is understood Mears Group has no record of concerns being flagged up by Mr Nixon. In a statement the firm said it “had let service users down” and that the care provided was “not always” to their “usual high standards” but steps had been taken to improve the quality of care.

Mr Nixon said bosses based in an Edinburgh office would take on extra clients despite not having adequate staffing in place to care for them all and that care workers would be forced to slash visiting times by half to ensure that they got round all of the vulnerable people who depended on them.

He said: “The way the Gibsons were treated was disgusting. I’m speaking out for them. They were two of my clients and I got on really well with them.

“Mr Gibson had been everywhere in the world and was obviously an intelligent man. He shouldn’t have spent his last days like that.”

Mr Nixon claimed that:

• Mears bosses ignored his reports that Mr and Ms Gibson were not being given important medication by inexperienced and overworked colleagues – even when presented with 
photographic evidence

• Vital visits were missed by staff members because they were “too busy”

• Care workers were constantly hounded by management with demands to take on extra work

• Male workers would repeatedly be sent to visit residents who required female carers

• Staff would be forced to work 15-hour days to see every elderly resident on their rounds.

Speaking to the Evening News, Mr Nixon said: “You could have 15 to 20 clients a day, and they would just add and add and add to the list.

“At the Gibsons’ there was medication in a packet with the days it was to be taken marked on it. If I had a few days off I would go round and it would still be there – it hadn’t been taken.

“I would report it to the 
office, I even took photos to prove it. They would say they were looking into it but nothing would be done – not a thing.

“I would say at least ten of the good staff that started with Mears have left now, the morale was terrible.

“The low pay didn’t bother me, I really enjoyed the work. I would still be there if it wasn’t for the company, but they just wouldn’t listen to you. The management were terrible.”

Mr Nixon, who worked for Mears between April and August, said he raised concerns about the care of the Gibsons – known as Ian and Bunty – at least four times and complained about the excessive workload placed on staff. But he said his pleas were ignored.

Neighbours of the Gibsons, who lived in Claremont Bank, Bellevue, said that they regularly
had to step in to look after the siblings, who it is understood had no other family.

A source said a neighbour reported to a GP that Mr Gibson was bleeding, after a Mears carer had also raised concerns to the doctor, resulting in the couple being rushed to the Western General Hospital, where Mr Gibson later underwent emergency surgery for a bowel condition, but sadly lost his fight for life.

It is believed that Ms Gibson, who is being cared for in a dementia ward, may be unable to return home.

Mr Nixon, of Loaning Crescent in Craigentinny, said that on a typical morning visit to the Gibsons he would have to get them up, washed and dressed, give them breakfast and tidy the kitchen. He would be allocated between 30 and 45 minutes, he said, but would often only spend around 20 minutes there because of the workload.

Staff members working for Mears are only paid for the time they spend in clients’ homes, and are not given travel time between appointments, even if they are significant distances apart. It means that on the allotted times on carers’ schedules, they are expected to be at their next appointment immediately after the previous one ends, although in practice, travelling times make it impossible.

It is understood that a recent change in rules has meant carers must spent the full allocated time in a clients’ property, although workloads mean staff are forced to work longer shifts and are often late on visits.

Another carer who agreed to speak to the Evening News on the condition that their name would not be disclosed said they shared many of Mr Nixon’s experiences, and that they too had quit the job earlier this year as a result of working conditions.

The care source said they would have to visit four clients in different parts of the city in one hour – but was officially expected to spend the full hour caring for one person.

In the course of one morning visit, they said they were expected to get clients out of bed, wash and dress clients, give them medication, serve breakfast, prepare lunch for later and tidy up.

The experienced carer said: “When I worked for Mears in Edinburgh I’ve never seen anything like it. You had clients being totally missed because some carers couldn’t be bothered.

“I reported things every day, they said they’d look into it but nothing was ever done. I cared for the Gibsons, and when I saw them in the News it didn’t surprise me because something like that was bound to happen. That’s why I left – I couldn’t work 
under the circumstances.

“The workload was horrendous, you ended up with 15 or 16 hour shifts with a half-an-hour break because they were taking on too many clients. They would just give us the clients and expect us to sort it out. Some of the other staff members would say you don’t have to see such-and-such because it’s only to pop in to give them medication – I was disgusted.

“You’d be in someone’s house and the phone would be going constantly with the office asking you to take on more work. If you didn’t answer you were bombarded with texts telling you to answer your phone, they would do it every day. You’d end up running all over the place, exhausted.”

The concerns raised by the ex-employees are reflected in some of the requirements imposed on Mears by the Care Inspectorate in the last eight months. In total, six complaints have been upheld either fully or in part since February about the company’s care at home service in Edinburgh.

It is understood Mears refute Mr Nixon’s claims that he worked 15-hour shifts.

Bernadette Walsh, chief operating officer at Mears said: “The implementation of this contract was not as good as it should have been and on occasions we let service users down and the care provided was not always to our usual high standards. We have taken a number of steps to improve the quality of care. This includes putting new management in place, consulting with our staff and service users and increasing the ratio of care workers to service users.

“In the days and weeks before his admission to hospital, calls to Mr Gibson and his sister were undertaken properly (and recorded using an electronic call monitoring system). It was a report from our care worker which led to the GP arranging his admission to hospital. We will continue to support the council’s investigation and will act quickly to implement their recommendations.”

‘This was quite avoidable’

LOTHIAN MSP Sarah Boyack previously called for care workers to speak out if they were too overburdened with work to perform their jobs properly.

Today, she welcomed news that concerned staff were speaking out about the quality of service they provide and said it was “vital these views are properly investigated in the inquiry that is now going to be held”.

She added: “To what extent is this an isolated case? There are checks and balances but they were not effective in this case”

Margo MacDonald, independent MSP for the Lothians, said: “This case will have caused enough concern at council, health board and government level to produce an investigation and I would back that.

“There’s an anger because it does look as though there are two elderly people who were living in misery. The pensioner should not have died. This was something that was quite avoidable.”

Scottish Conservative chief whip John Lamont said: “The vast majority of carers are responsible, caring individuals, but this case does reiterate the importance of making sure if there are issues of concern, they should be raised formally and dealt with swiftly. Often carers will be the only human contact vulnerable people have, which is why it’s important they act as a contact to the outside world.”