Absolutely heartbreaking but not surprising

Gloria Foster

I read a story this week that made me extremely sad. It didn’t shock me or surprise me as it did others. Instead I thought ‘I knew this sort of thing would happen.’

Pensioner starved to death after being left alone for nine days.

I was shot into a care agency in my previous life and employed to turn them around. My job was to fix the broken things within its structure and organisation and to make sure that it didn’t a) go out of business, b) would turn a profit and c) pass its annual inspection. At no point did anyone suggest to me that my role should also be to make sure the elderly and vulnerable who were cared for were safe, protected and receiving the service they deserved but this was very much on my mind as I sat in the office on the first day surveyed the horrors and said ‘Ohhh shit.’

Records were incomplete, care plans poorly compiled, staff had not been trained on some of the mandatory aspects of their job and, for some of those who were working for the agency from nations where they needed an appropriate visa in order to work in this country, this evidence had never been provided.

I worked my balls off. The person I was working with became sick with stress and I took over and got all everything sorted out. I quickly got to know the service users and their issues, and communicated with them and their families regularly. I got the paperwork sorted out and up to date, training updates in place and all visa information was provided. If staff refused to provide it then I didn’t put them to work until they did, and they soon did. I changed things around a bit and reorganised stuff so we could do the thing we were paid to do: care for people. And our service users and their families were very happy with the service we provided.

We gained clients, and rapidly started making a very good profit. We were based in the office of a larger care agency of which we were a subsidiary. Our reputation increased and we gained new staff who were CRB checked, had provided visa evidence which we checked for authenticity, and they were trained properly. All was good. Our inspection went well and we got the maximum rating we could receive.

One day I went into the office and there was a weird vibe. Even the flirty receptionist who used to look at my bum as I climbed the stairs was out of sorts. Senior Management and Directors were in from Head Office and it all felt strange. Like something was going to happen but I couldn’t work out what. A training session for the larger company had been arranged and they had summoned 60% of their workforce for this training session. The staff started arriving and were led to the conference room and, when all were present, the doors were locked.

Minutes later 4 vans parked on the main driveway. In came hordes of UK Border Agency officer all dressed in black. The Divisional Head spoke to them and unlocked the door to the conference room. And slowly these people who had come for a training session were hauled into the vans.

Some of these people were working illegally, or never had to correct permission to work in the UK. One woman was screaming ‘What is happening? I have to pick my son up from school later? I work for these people. Please help me!’

60% of the agency staff were taken away and as such the company could not provide care for the all people they were supposed to be providing for. The Divisional Head came to me and asked if we had staff that could fill the gaps. Not all of our staff were working at that time so I made some phone calls and got the staff they needed to cover until they could sort their shit out. We paid more than this other agency so I also ensured that our staff’ got the salary we would pay them.

But. If we couldn’t do this, or if all our staff were working, vulnerable people would’ve been left without the care they needed. Or, people who are only supposed to be working a set amount of hours per day would’ve been asked to work longer, which is also illegal. Those receiving 4 calls a day might’ve only got 2, or none at all. The company handed over these workers so they could avoid prosecution, but were also reluctant to pass their clients onto another agency who might be able to handle the load, such was their desire and greed to keep this business and the income.

It sickened me.

I left shortly afterwards as my son was born and I decided to become a full-time stay at home dad, but the issue of care of the elderly and vulnerable has always been something that I care deeply about. Care agencies are supposed to provide care for fuck’s sake and if they’re employing illegal workers and have to close because they are, and the caseload isn’t passed onto someone else that can provide the services properly, then an 81-year-old woman dies of starvation and dehydration.

What a fucking horrible way to die.

This story saddened me this week. It must never happen again and it doesn’t have to happen again if the correct procedures and policies are adhered to from day one. I respect people who work in social care and those who are carers. It’s a tough job and you have to be a certain person to do it I think. I couldn’t.

I don’t know what the answers are, but Gloria Foster died needlessly because the dots were not joined up and people sacrificed the correct way to do things for the sake of a quick buck.

But, as I said, when I heard the story I wasn’t shocked or surprised. Just saddened. As I knew this would happen at some point.

Thanks for reading and I dedicate this post to Gloria Foster.

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15 responses to “Absolutely heartbreaking but not surprising

  1. Hi Spencer. We have been discussing a particular aspect of this sad story over on Telecare Aware. It appears this woman did not have any form of telecare/alarm system and it is not clear if she could have raised the alarm in any case. We were asked about how to make systems failsafe so these situations never happen but there are several of us who have got into the discussion from the non joined up angle you have stated because telecare without good practice is useless. You might find some of the discussion interesting and you might like to contribute from your experiences?

    I 100% agree with you – this was a needless death and Gloria deserved better.

  2. Until recently I was a homecarer.

    I don’t know what the answers are either. It frightens me to death the whole system, as it tends to be about profit and ticking the CQC boxes and not necessarily on quality service provision.

    So much of care boiles down to common sense and effective communication. These things are quite rare, sadly.

    Too many of these cases.

    • You’re right. The weighting in many cases is to ensure they pass a CQC inspection, but in that report you complete you must ask service users what they think of the service via a questionnaire. And it’s at points like that where the feedback means so much, but not everyone can or will be able to complete these questionnaires.

      As you say, common sense and effective communication is what’s needed. As in all things.

      Thanks for your comment and for reading.

  3. I don’t know much about the care system but I know that my mum works for an admission prevention service in Suffolk; there are constant, enforced rearrangements of staff, services taken away and all at the cost of the people who are needing it the most. My mother and her colleagues are all stressed out to the point that most are signed off work and have developed blood pressure problems. It’s all money oriented and I know that right now there are people out there who have not been issued a carer or the right equipment because there are not enough staff or funds. Now I am not au fait with politics and such but I know enough to say that the cuts come from the local councils, which stem from cuts and pressure from the government. The NHS is meddled up in the middle of all that too. I am not surprised either, and she won’t be the first, or the last.

    • Thanks for your comment and for sharing what you know. In short, it’s all fucked up but it shouldn’t be. It’s simple. People need care so care for them. People above profits and cutbacks but, of course, you know that.

      Thanks for reading.

  4. It saddend me too, iv dedicated 17 years of my life to the elderly (carer,Now care superviser) and it angers me how there lives mean so little to people who are only interested in money! These people are human beings and deserve respect and kindness , not being forgotten about for 9 days! It’s disgraceful especially in this day and age! Basic human rights are being ignored! I bloody well hate it! Xx

    • You’re absolutely right and I’m so glad you commented as I was wondering your view on this as you’re on the inside.
      Thanks for reading and for your comment.

  5. I am saddened too. My Grandad is in a care home and as far as I have seen it is all foreign workers. I would rather an illegal worker take care of him than no one. So sad.

    • It’s a hard job but not everyone is suited to it. It’s a real tricky situation but I’ve got no idea how it can be improved.

      Hope you’re grandad is well. Pass on my best wishes.

      And thanks for reading.

  6. This is a really moving post Spencer. I too was upset when I read that story – how awful those final days must have been for her. I also wonder in these situations where people’s families are? What happened to watching out for your loved ones? It is an unspeakable shame that people must die in isolation like this. RIP Gloria.

  7. Thank you for your words. I too was so saddened by this news story. We are currently employing two care companies to help look after my elderly father. Thankfully, he has three children, and we share the care during the week and on the weekends, but we also rely on the carers to look after him when we can’t – due to our jobs and our own young families. Carers are doing an essential job across the country and we need to support this vital industry. They have enabled my dad to live in his home since my mum died, rather than in an old people’s home, which he would find very difficult. We need to support their efforts and celebrate the work they do, and make sure the care companies are both efficient and caring. Thank you Spencer for bringing this to our attention.

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