ONE in five visits by care staff to the elderly and frail is for 15 minutes or less in Oxfordshire – about double the national average.
Questions were being raised last night about whether the home visits were long enough to provide the proper level of care because of the disparity with other areas around the country.
In a five-week period leading up to the end of March, 21.7 per cent of home visits to help the elderly or frail was of the shortest time slot of 0-15 minutes. Forty-three per cent of visits were of 16-30 minutes.
The national average last year in comparison was 10 per cent and 63 per cent respectively. The Oxfordshire figures for March are the latest available, although Oxfordshire County Council said the general average could rise to 25 per cent.
The type and length of home visits – to help with cleaning, washing, dressing and cooking – are chosen by the individual or mental health provider Oxford Health.
They are funded out of a budget set by Oxfordshire County Council. The council discusses with each person about how to structure their care package, which is then provided by sub-contracted companies.
Oxfordshire County Council provided 137,388 visits to about 1,500 people in the five weeks up to the end of March.
It is now reviewing their use following a report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, while Oxford East MP Andrew Smith is going to ask the Care Quality Commission to “take a close look” at the situation and the impact on elderly people.
The council was not able to say how many people only got 15-minute visits.
The report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission said: “We heard from some care provider agencies that the resources allocated through local authority commissioning were often not enough to deliver the amount and quality of home care required in their contracts.
“As a result, older people had 15-minute visits from care workers who were rushed and unable to finish the tasks allocated.”
County spokesman Marcus Mabberley said: “Our policy is that no visit should be too short for the person to be treated with dignity and respect. It is important to understand that lengths of visits do vary because of the tasks that carers undertake. Some will take a shorter amount of time than others.
“People may have a short visit to administer medication in the middle of the day, in between longer visits morning and evening.”
He added: “The decision regarding what length of visits people with personal budgets receive rests with the client.”
But Mr Smith described the situation as “worrying” and said 15-minute visits were not long enough to provide “real care”.
He said: “It’s a real worry that the use of 15 minutes home care visits is so much higher in Oxfordshire than the national average.
“Fifteen minutes is not long enough to provide any real care, and barely enough to check the person’s welfare and medication, especially when you bear in mind some of those minutes are taken up filling in forms. I fear that a lot of elderly and frail people are being short-changed by these rushed visits.
“People are bound to suspect that the county council might be steering people in the cheaper direction, unless we get some explanation of this very high figure.
“Let’s get to the bottom of it and be assured that frail and elderly people who need care are getting as much as they really need.”
Mr Smith called for more training, accredited standards and better pay for home care workers at a Westminster debate on the subject in March.
The council pays, on average, £19 per hour for home support – the national average is £15 – but providers set their own pay and conditions for staff.
ELAINE Biles, 58, is a full-time carer for her husband, Stephen, 66. He was diagnosed with fronto-temporal dementia almost three years ago.
The couple receive £180 a week from Oxfordshire County Council, which funds about nine hours of care so Mrs Biles can have a break.
Mr Biles, whose condition is degenerative, does not receive 15-minute home care visits.
Mrs Biles, from Shipton-under-Wychwood, said: “Fifteen minutes is definitely not enough time.
“By the time they ring the door bell and get into the house and have barely spoken to the client, they have got to sign off and fill the paperwork in.
“As long as you say there is a place for 15-minute visits they will keep it up. I think they should be banned, but I realise the funding of this will be a big problem.”
She added: “I want Stephen to be at home and I want him to be happy, and I can only do that with the care. I am very worried they are going to cut this.”