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Fears over Black Isle care packages as families given notice withdrawal; Highland Home Carers cites employee shortages in issue affecting area

By Louise Glen

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Mother and son Alison Joyce Sutherland (87) and Mike Sutherland (62) were shocked by the notice.Picture: Callum Mackay
Mother and son Alison Joyce Sutherland (87) and Mike Sutherland (62) were shocked by the notice.Picture: Callum Mackay

ROSS-SHIRE families of vulnerable seniors who need help to remain in their own homes have expressed shock after being told vital care packages are being pulled.

The family of one 87-year-old was given 28 days’ notice of the change sparking fears of a care crisis in an area.

Mike Sutherland (62), from the Black Isle, said he panicked when he learned his mother Alison Sutherland (87), known as Joyce, was to have her home visits by Highland Home Carers (HHC) removed. HHC deliver care to Black Isle residents under specific requirements negotiated by voluntary group Black Isle Cares, including paying £1 extra for every visit a carer makes to a client.

Mr Sutherland, an SSEN worker given a local hero award for going the extra mile for customers, believes that due to a change in the way staff caring for his mum have been treated, HHC no longer has enough staff to provide care in the more rural and isolated areas.

He said: “My mum has three visits a day from carers. They help her to stay in her own home. She has lived there for more than 60 years, and it is really important to her that she is in a place that she loves and knows.

“Over the last few months, carers have been raising concerns about things that they find difficult about the job, such as zero-hour contracts and a tiny £1 travel cost for every visit. The carers themselves provide a great service but there is a high turnover of staff.

“My concern is that if carers are not treated well then more elderly people will be in a similar situation. That will mean fewer clients will be left without the support they need at home.”

A former HHC worker Johanna Dymock, whose mother also receives care from HHC, said: “HHC has been serving notice to clients in the Culbokie area saying that its care provision will cease after 28 days.

“We have been told that there are not enough staff to cover visits, and that the mileage incurred providing care in the area is too great.

“Mileage and staffing have always been an issue in this area, yet the service managed to run for more than three years, with excellent care being given, as evidenced by the latest care inspectorate report and service user/family comments.

“However, in the latter half of the year, the whole management of and approach to the Black Isle seemed to change, with things going rapidly downhill, at least in the Culbokie and Resolis area. Several new carers joined the Culbokie team, which should have enabled the care to be comfortably delivered. However carers felt they were being treated like the enemy. Service users and their families were treated with little respect and upset on numerous occasions.

“My initial concern is that people continue to receive the care they require, with minimal disruption to their lives and their families.

“However I also believe serious questions need to be asked of HHC, who seem to have lost all respect for staff and clients alike, caring only for profit and a superficial glossiness.”

Chief executive of HHC, Campbell Mair said: “Highland Home Carers is an employee-owned company. We work to develop recruitment and retention environments in our communities that are stable and sustainable. Like others across social care in Scotland, we have one precious and scarce resource, that is people.

“The parameters of what is, and is not, possible are to a large extent determined by our ability to recruit and retain, as locally as possible, people with the correct values, who wish to care for and support some of the most vulnerable people in our communities.

“It is well documented that care work in Scotland is often low-paid, female-dominated and undervalued, with pay rates in the voluntary and private sector close to the minimum wage despite the complexity of the roles and the skills and qualifications required.

“One of HHC’s core aims is to improve the lives of the social care workforce.

“I am deeply saddened by circumstances where we are unable to deliver care and support, due to scarcity of people, and I share families’ and communities’ frustrations.

“Perhaps these distressing and upsetting local circumstances can help shed greater light on the value and impact of social care and of our workforce.”

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