An elderly woman has criticised the council’s community care service after her dedicated home helper was taken away and replaced by a team of carers. In one week during the summer she had 14 different people through her door in one week.
Ursula Freeman, 96, of Dunrossness, said she had been struggling for three years to get back the woman who had assisted her loyally for over a decade because she found the high number of folk who come to help with jobs around the house “instrusive”.
The change was introduced due to the increasing demand in the South Mainland for the services. Three years ago staff based at the Overtonlea Care Centre provided 400 “care packages”; that figure is now almost 600 and is expected to continue to grow.
Mrs Freeman told The Shetland Times: “I’ve had a home helper since just before I was 80. I had just come out of hospital. It was terrific, because she came in during the morning and knew exactly what to get on with. She had been with me for so long, she knew the way I like things done.”
The change came after her dedicated home helper arrived and said she would not be able to return the following week. Mrs Freeman said she received no notification from the council about the new arrangements.
“I thought in that position I would have been informed,” she said. She has no personal grievance with any of the staff, but claimed that having different helpers affected the service she received.
“They are all nice folk. I have nothing against them. But when you think I am woken up in the morning with, ‘What do you want me to do today?’ before you’ve even come to it is frustrating.
“Brenda [Carter, her previous full time helper] knew exactly what needed done. Seven helpers would be a low week. Normally it’s nine to 12. Once I got to 14 I thought this was just too much.”
Mrs Freeman has also questioned whether the move was cost effective. The changes mean the SIC has to send out monthly schedules in advance, which she says must cost needless money in postage and administration.
Mrs Freeman said she had contacted head of community care Christine Ferguson, but had never received a satisfactory answer. She has also raised the matter with Shetland South councillor Allison Duncan, who has championed the cause for the elderly.
Mrs Ferguson said she could not comment on individual cases, but emphasised that the number of “care packages” provided from the Overtonlea Care centre had shot up in recent years.
“We’re increasingly supporting more and more people at home with high levels of dependency,” she said. “We are now providing almost 600 care hours a week from Overtonlea, and that is growing all the time.
“We are trying the whole time to recruit more staff and increase the staff team. We would hope to have a minimum number of people going to one client, because it’s not ideal to have high numbers of people going in to one house.”
Adding that 14 helpers in a week “sounds a bit excessive”, she said problems often arose with rotas during school holidays when many folk have time off, meaning remaining staff are spread more thinly.
Management at community care also have to balance levels of experience when distributing tasks for the month ahead. “That can mean folk can see more people when it is peak holiday times,” she added.
Asked about distances travelled by helpers, she said efforts were being made to ensure staff did not have to travel too far to reach their clients.
“We have to look at this the whole time because travel time is not care time,” she said.
She said the service was now under an obligation to provide a schedule in advance. Efforts were being made to find more effective ways of putting out these schedules.
One possibility for the future could be emails, but Mrs Ferguson admitted most elderly people do not own a computer or work with email systems.
“We fully appreciate the issues raised and we do try to strive to reduce the number of people on a [care] package, but we have to keep the whole service running and at times we just literally will have to provide care through the staff we have available.”