Spying on carers risks damaging the trust we need to raise standards

Finding care for frail parents in their declining years has just been recognised as one of the most stressful decisions we will ever have to make. According to a new Care Quality Commission survey, it is more stressful than getting married or divorced or choosing children’s schooling. Central in this stress is the fear that carers might not just be inadequate but cruel – understandable given recent court cases exposing extreme abuse in care homes. But is the solution to use secret cameras to monitor carers? Or would this exacerbate stress by adding further distrust and creating a surveillance mentality towards work that essentially depends on good and trusting human relations?

While falling short of actually recommending that relatives should install surveillance cameras, the CQC is nevertheless endorsing their use by issuing guidelines for relatives considering such action. Andrea Sutcliffe, the watchdog’s chief inspector of adult social care, acknowledges that this is controversial. Some people, she says, will think of her as the “devil incarnate”, but she defends the guidelines as guidance for those who choose this route.

I certainly don’t think these suggestions are diabolic: they are a legitimate response to heart-breaking cases, like that of 79-year-old dementia sufferer Gladys Wright, whose abuse at the hands of “carer” Daniel Baynes was exposed by a secret camera; and it’s not as if surveillance in public spaces isn’t now routine. But nor can I embrace the move either.

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The Language of Wolves

What’s at stake in wolf conservation? It isn’t just the survival of the species but the survival of wilderness

“Beware the wolves of Chiantishire,” warned a recent Daily Mail headline. Tuscany’s “idyllic landscape of rolling fields and poplar-lined hills”, the article continued, which in the past “proved irresistible to the great, the good and the very rich”, have in recent months become “home to a savage predator – packs of marauding wolves which are growing increasingly brazen”. Politicians in Chianti-country, we are told, “have called on the government to take action. There are growing fears that the wolves could attack humans.”

Even by the Daily Mail’s usual standards of scaremongering, this scenario is pushing it. In spite of their mythically savage status, proven attacks on humans by wolves are very small in number: globally since 2000 there have only been around 20 confirmed attacks. By comparison, in an average year there are 26 deaths caused by domestic dogs in the United States alone. The risk to humans of an unprovoked attack by a wolf is minuscule in comparison, even taking into account the vastly greater number of dogs.


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Looking After Mother 4


This week my brother rang to say he had last-minute tickets to Madame Butterfly at the Royal Albert Hall. Could I bring Mum or would I prefer to bring my partner? I struggled with my conscience, but only briefly. “It’s difficult bringing Mum out at night. I’ll have to take the car instead of public transport.” What I really meant was I fancied an unencumbered night out. I knew how much she’d love Madame Butterfly, so because I felt guilty I decided to call in on her on my way to work.

When I arrive, Mum is up and dressed. She looks different in a way I can’t quite pin down until she says, “We’re looking for my teeth.” Her carer is there. She comes every morning to remind Mum to take her medicine and help tidy up. Mum seems to draw out the best in her carers, and her current one is no exception. She’s Ghanaian, sweet-natured and very conscientious. She’s also inventive and is currently using a ladle to empty my mother’s dishwasher, clogged up – again – with vast amounts of fat. I hold a bucket beside her and we discuss Mum’s increasingly alarming habit of leaving fat heating up on the stove.

I resume the hunt for the missing teeth


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Looking After Mother 2

We were getting ready for the cinema when the phone rang. It was my mother’s neighbours. Someone in the block had called the council to investigate loud knocking noises coming from her flat. Eventually she’d answered the door, and after they had all gathered in her kitchen listening to the pipes, concluded something was seriously wrong with the central heating.

It would be a lie to say I rushed to the rescue. I felt exasperated. I’d had a difficult day and was looking forward to some relaxation. It was also the day the snow came down heavily in London. I sent the neighbour to and fro, eliminating possibilities, hoping to fix it remotely. She was greeted every time by my astonished mother who in minutes had forgotten her last visit. But I knew this was unfair on the neighbour. I would have to call British Gas.

Ringing a call centre for an emergency visit on your own behalf is tiresome enough. Calling them for someone else – with the same name – trips the fuses. But “Andy” eventually allowed me to make my case.

Read More: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2007/feb/17/familyandrelationships.family2