Bye Jessica - you are awesome!


One of the themes of my blog is amazing and generous-hearted people. The world is full of them. But no one is counting, so it’s hard to tell if they’re a majority or a minority. 

A couple of weeks ago we said goodbye to Jessica*, who had lived with us for two years. Jessica is the person you want taking care of you, when you're in need. She'll stand up to idiotic managers, to fight for her clients. She'll stay late to do what’s needed, she'll make you laugh. She'll be totally professional, and absolutely determined to give you the best care, despite the very tough working conditions. 

One time, Jessica and a colleague came back to visit an old man after all their home visits were done, late in the evening, as he asked for their company.  They had dinner with him. He died that night, much happier for his final evening with two people who genuinely cared. When the management wouldn't give any money for refreshments for Christmas activities in December in a residential care home, she organised donations from family and friends to make it happen. Another time, Jessica went to great lengths to help an elderly resident whose health had deteriorated and had lost confidence to go to the lunch hall. It was a big team effort involving relatives and other care workers to get her there, but when she did, she reconnected with old friends, and Jessica was delighted to have brightened her day (but the management poured cold water on her success). 

Every care home should be staffed by the Jessica's of this world - and their outstanding dedication and love should be supported and rewarded by managers. But working conditions are often terrible, and many staff are demotivated, stressed and regularly off sick.  The Office for National Statistics reports that workers take an average of 4 days off per year due to sickness, but public sector workers and care professionals are more often sick than other types of workers. QualityWatch estimates that for social care roles which involve direct support to clients, this triples to 12 days off per year.

Even as a team leader, Jessica is paid minimum wage. When she was off work for 6 weeks, waiting in pain for an operation, she received no pay. Prior to her operation, she regularly took on additional shifts whenever staff in her team were sick. After her operation, she was signed off by the doctor from doing heavy lifting of patients. So she had to refuse to cover extra shifts herself, but managers told her that it would go on her work record. 

Jessica's lovely boyfriend, Ryan*, equally committed and great at his job, was injured working in a psychiatric unit in hospital. Once a patient threw a fridge at him. In another incident in which four staff were injured by the same (petite) female, Ryan's kneecap and jaw were fractured and he was off work for 10 months. With no pay and no emotional support from union or management.

I was shocked by the many stories of injustice that Jessica and Ryan told us while they lived with us. These are not isolated cases.  86,000 employees in health and social care were injured at work in 2015. Around a quarter of these were due to lifting and handling, and just under a quarter (18,000) due to physical assault. 

Jessica has met the lovely Ryan, and will hopefully live happily ever after, and find a job with supportive and effective management and proper pay. But I don't know what the answer is. They are making huge personal sacrifices to care for the most vulnerable and it's totally unacceptable that on top of stress, injury and illness, they (and thousands of other care workers) were pushed into debt when they couldn't work. It would be great to end this post with a list of three things you can do right now to make working conditions better for care workers. If someone knows what they are, please tell me. But at the very least, I just thought you should know.

*Names changed to protect identities


Naomi Rouse