Union’s Concern At Council’s Deal With Private Care Firm
A TRADE union has complained about problems it says have arisen since a controversial private company was contracted to look after people with learning disabilities.
Last autumn Vale of Glamorgan Council passed responsibility for 20 of its 27 supported housing schemes for vulnerable people to Lifeways, an American-owned company linked to the deaths of three care clients over the past five years.
In 2003 Adrian Pullman, an 11-year-old with special needs, drowned in a Devon swimming pool hours after his family handed him over to Lifeways carers.
In 2004 Daniel Heard, 26, a schizophrenic from Exeter whose mental health deteriorated after he did not get the care Lifeways was contracted to provide, was found dead in a river.
Last August disabled Yelena Hassleberg-Langley, 18, died in an Oxford hospital from organ failure due to burns and scalds after a hot bath in her sheltered accommodation run by Lifeways. Last week three Lifeways employees, under investigation for suspected manslaughter, had their police bail extended until May.
Unison in Wales has complained to the Care Standards Inspectorate Wales over its concerns about Lifeways’ contract with Vale of Glamorgan Council.
Unison regional officer Peter Short said, “Since the transfer [to Lifeways] the service has been at crisis point.”
He said many staff were not being paid correctly, they did not get proper pay slips, their income tax affairs “are in a mess” and they had lost membership of their pension schemes.
As a result morale had dropped and staff were grossly overworked, he said.
“This disturbing state of affairs has been repeatedly brought to the attention of Vale of Glamorgan Council, which astonishingly has not yet appointed a contract monitoring officer and consequently have not visited any of the vulnerable adults involved in these contracts for which the Vale has care management responsibilities. The council has singularly failed to act or even respond to the concerns that the union has raised.”
Paul Marriner, chief executive of Lifeways, said, “The welfare of all our staff and the exemplary care for our service users remain our top priority at all times.
“We took over this Vale of Glamorgan contract in November last year. Lifeways has great experience with local authorities with seven out of 10 of our contracts coming from that sector since the company was launched 13 years ago.
“We have been working very hard over the first few months to bring together pensions and other complex financial information drawn down from the former providers. Under the transitional arrangements, Lifeways has always supplied pay slips which comply with the law, and which will be further enhanced when the new systems are fully implemented.
“It is absolutely untrue to suggest staff have permanently lost their pensions. Lifeways has occasionally experienced delays in receiving the relevant information to enable us to send the pension contributions to the right place, but this is being rectified.”
Vale of Glamorgan Council social services director Phil Evans said, “The council strongly denies the allegation that no response has been made to the issues raised in respect of Lifeways Community Care by Unison.
“We have maintained a positive dialogue with Lifeways since receiving information from Unison in February and the union has been notified of the outcome of that dialogue. A further meeting is to take place with Lifeways this week to address more recent issues raised by Unison,”