Language Skills Recruitment and the Care Industry

care_home17:20 Wednesday 7th May 2014
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

[C]HRIS MANN: There could be new efforts to ensure care workers can speak English before placing them in vulnerable people’s homes: the view of Dr Shereen Hussein, Scientific Adviser to the Department of Health, who says poor language skills can lead to bad care and abuse. Let’s get a professional view on that. Joining me now is Alan Lewin. Hello Alan.
ALAN LEWIN: Good evening Chris.
CHRIS MANN: Director of Axiom Crossroads Care in Cambridgeshire. Just tell us a little bit about what you do, your company does.
ALAN LEWIN: OK. We’re based in Peterborough, but we provide what’s called domiciliary care, and we provide care within extra care housing throughout Cambridgeshire. Domiciliary care is when we provide care to people within their homes. And as I say we also have staff in our extra care schemes throughout the county.
CHRIS MANN: How many people do you look after most weeks?
ALAN LEWIN: We look after about 80 people, something like that.
CHRIS MANN: And how many staff do you have?
ALAN LEWIN: We have about 50 care workers.
CHRIS MANN: OK. And is English language comprehension a big issue for you?

ALAN LEWIN: It’s not Chris, because we’ve got a rigorous application and recruitment selection process. We take safeguarding very very seriously, and if people can’t answer our questions and demonstrate sufficient ability to deal with English then they don’t get appointed by us.
CHRIS MANN: But it’s clear from the concerns that have been raised by somebody as senior as Dr Shereen Hussein that it obviously is a problem elsewhere.
ALAN LEWIN: Indeed, and I’m sure it’s a problem within the County as well, and it’s a challenge for us. Across the sector recruiting good people is a real challenge. If I can just give you an example Chris, in the last month we’ve had 20 applications for care workers’ jobs with us and we recruited 4 people from that. And that’s the sort of ratio on average that happens to us every month.
CHRIS MANN: So how many did you need?
ALAN LEWIN: Well we need about 20 people.
ALAN LEWIN: Yes. So we’re constantly on the look out for good people that want a career in care. And I’m sure other care organisations have the same challenge. And unfortunately some organisations that use recruitment companies are clearly appointing people who’s language skills are perhaps not as good as they should be.
CHRIS MANN: Of course there are other skills that are needed, and the image of the job is one that it’s, I imagine it’s hard work, you’re obviously doing some difficult work, sometimes with people who do need everything done for them. Is that fair?
ALAN LEWIN: Yes. It is very fair, and what we have done is that we have recruited people whose English is not very good, but we don’t put them in care roles. We’ve taken them on as cleaners, and we’ve made sure that they’ve got the appropriate skills to undertake that role, and potentially give them the opportunity to improve their English while they’re with us, and then perhaps apply for a care worker role a little bit later on. But we certainly wouldn’t expose people to that position unless their English is good enough, not least because people are often having to administer medication and take instruction, and clearly it’s essential that they understand English.
CHRIS MANN: Perhaps people will be surprised that there hasn’t been more of a check on this before now.
ALAN LEWIN: Well I think each case reveals difficulties within the system, and obviously where cases of failure have been identified, that can sometimes be associated with English not being someone’s first language or of the English not being good enough. And then that leads to other problems which may or may not be associated with the use of English. And obviously providing care to vulnerable people is very challenging, and we need to make sure we employ people to the right standard.
CHRIS MANN: Well the message is, at a time when there are lots of people looking for work, there are jobs available in your sector.
ALAN LEWIN: There are fantastic opportunities, certainly with us. I think one of the issues is in terms of the care cost being pushed down by local authorities. Now the only reason that we’re able to keep going really is because we’re a charity, and we’re not for profit, and therefore any penny that we make goes straight back into services. And that’s the only reason we’re managing to keep going in the current climate. So that’s part of the challenge Chris.
CHRIS MANN: Alan, thank you so much for joining us. Alan Lewin there, Director of Axiom Crossroads care in Cambridgeshire, on the issue of people concerned about care workers and whether their English is up to it.