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The Day I Left The Care Industry

Updated: Mar 4, 2023

Wait the woman who keeps on harping about how great being a carer is? Left the care industry?? Surely not??



Yes you read that right. The care industry broke me. I left. The end.


Well not quite the end...




I was talking to a friend recently and she reminded me of the time she saw me break. Now I'm not one to toot my own horn, but I will tell you that I am a very strong independent woman and there is not much that gets to me. I'm not really that emotional, I'm pretty much level headed and cheery all the time. I'm a matter of fact type of person. I'm a glass is half full type of person. If something goes wrong, I see it as a chance to learn and improve. There truly isn't much that bothers me. And if it does, it takes me a very short while to rewrite it in my brain and often just recognise it as a first word problem or really just not that important in the grand scheme of things.


But my friend happened to be there to witness the very point when it all became too much. To cut a long story short, she saw her strong, happy, care free friend, suddenly crumble because, simply, her personal phone rang.


Yes I had a panic attack. My first and only panic attack. Everything suddenly seemed very close, the air was hard to breath and my chest was tight. What we were doing suddenly didn't matter, I could only focus on one thing...work.


I remember it vividly. I was at her farm with my two little boys, they were 1 and 3 years old at the time. I was annual leave from my care job as a team leader, so a middle management type role. This annual leave I had been really really ready for as work had been hard lately. Very full on, so the break coming up had been counted down to for weeks. We were by my car, I can't quite remember why, and my personal phone rang. I saw my managers name come on the screen and panic started to come. I answered it, there had been a problem at one of my houses, I needed to get there ASAP. Ok so they know I'm on annual leave, as my work phone is off, there's an automated reply on my emails and he's had to reach me on my personal phone, so it must be big. 'Sh*t I'm going to get fired'.


Have you ever had one those jobs where EVERYTIME you get called to see the manager, there's always a part of you that thinks you are going to lose your job? And not because you are bad at your job, I was actually really good at it, but simply because that has become the culture of the place. And remember I'm not a naturally negative thinker. It was just that the company I was working for now had previous form for pouncing on people when their guard was down. I had seen many a good colleague lose their job for literally no good reason. Over the years the place had changed. New higher management had been brought in, and it went from being people centred to money centred. Staff that had worked there for over 30 years had been fired for ridiculous reasons, if they wanted you gone, they would find a way. There was no thought for the people we supported and the lifetime relationships they had built with their staff. They simply wanted rid of old blood, but they didn't really ever get new blood in either. They just increased everyones work load.


Anyway back to me at the farm. So I need to go to work. But I've got my boys, as I've not organised childcare as I'm on annual leave. And I'm meant to be having a nice day with my friend. But nope, that's all gone to sh*t now as I'm worrying about work. Again. So I bailed on my friend, in truth I can't even remember what I did with the boys, and I went to work.


The Major Issue...Poo!


So I arrived at said house of the urgent issue, which was this... Stuart (name changed for confidential reasons!) the internal audit man had arrived to do a spot check (remember the pouncing on people when their guard was down, clearly trying to find issues whilst I wasn't there!) and he had. There was poo in the wash machine, going round and round.


I hear you say, 'I don't get it, what are you wittering on about Maria?'.


I didn't either. So I simply asked, and here is what happened. There was a young lad supporting the tenants. He was lovely, but young, new and still learning how to win at life shall we say. Now I'm not being sexist, and I'm sure this doesn't apply to all 20 year old lads, but he was still learning how to do domestic chores. He simply didn't know that poo wouldn't disintegrate in the wash machine (in truth, I'm not 100% certain I could have told you that fact at that time either!). A tenant had had an accident, he had supported them to shower and get clean, helped put on new clothes and had simply bundled all the dirty clothes and put them in the washer. He had actually done a really good job.


Obviously he had realised his error at not disposing of the poo in the toilet beforehand, as he could see it whirling around. But as you and I know, once that wash machine is on, it's on until the end. There's no second chance with a wash machine. You have to just wait it out. And it was at this moment Stuart arrived.


Because this poo in the wash machine was such a hygiene issue and cross contamination as other people use the wash machine, it had been escalated to the most urgent of levels. He had immediately called my manager, who thought it fit to bring me in from my annual leave to deal with the poo issue and the said member of staff.


I came in. However clearly we saw the situation very differently. I simply saw it like it was, a jobsworth has come in, who seemingly has totally forgot what the job to support someone is like, and made a massive issue out of nothing, Yes it wasn't fab, but the wash machine cycle would end, the poo would be disposed of, the washer cleaned and clothes put back on on a boil wash. Problem solved.


But nope, it wasn't good enough, the staff member must be reprimanded for such a mistake. I must start disciplinary procedures. (Have I mentioned I was actually meant to be off on a well needed annual leave break?!) I refused. And not because I was meant to be on annual leave, but because he hadn't done anything wrong. He had actually done really well and made one small error. He was young and still learning. And my job was to support the staff to support the tenants. My management technique was to work with people and not above them.


So I said I would happily start such procedures after they show me the part in their induction training that tells staff how to use a wash machine and that poo doesn't disintegrate in the washer, so must be flushed down the loo first. Shockingly the training package didn't cover such detail. The staff member was never disciplined.


Ironically I can tell you in detail about that event, but I genuinely couldn't tell you who the staff member was. I just remember them being a young lad. But what I can tell you, right at that moment there was when I started to make plans to leave the care industry.

Did I Over React? Definitely Not!

I hear you say, 'wow leaving your job just over one little incident, slightly over reacting there aren't your Maria?'.

Well do you remember I said I was on annual leave, after counting it down for weeks and needing a well deserved rest? Lets look at that statement a little more...



Workload!

The workload was massive. And when I say massive I mean you had a to do list all the time. It never got finished. For those who work in the care industry, you will be familiar with that dreaded word 'compliance'! You needed to ensure all your paperwork was always compliant, never out of date, or actually never nearly out of date. That's easy I hear you say. Well actually not as easy as it sounds. When your work load goes from managing 3 houses to 6 or 7 houses, with 1-4 people in each house (because they kept firing staff but never taking any new ones on). When the paperwork keeps changing because they have 'improved' it. You finally get it all up to date for it to then change yet again and you need to start all over again. And don't forget the job wasn't just paperwork, it was training and recruiting staff, supervising staff, creating rotas, working with the actual people we supported, taking them to hospital appointments as there wasn't enough money in their budget to fund a member of staff, covering shifts as we were always short staffed and being on call to name a few duties.


But let's talk about being on call a little more. Oh the joys! As part of my role we had to provide out of hours on call support for the entire service. When I say out of hours, it was really just the entire time for a week, 24/7, as any problem arising was going to be your problem, so it was beneficial to be on everyones case for the entire week to ensure less problems arose.


When I first started, it was one week out of every twelve. By the time I left, it was one week every 5 weeks plus an additional weekend. It also used to just be for the section of the business we covered, so maybe around 60 houses. They then changed it to cover the entire service, so around 200 houses. Needless to say, on call was unmanageable. That unmangable I actually reported it as a safeguarding to the local authority as it just wasn't possible for two people to oversee that many houses. The phone was that busy, it was often engaged, so people needing help couldn't get through. My plea for help was ignored.


There was a moment around 9pm at night and I remember being stood in my kitchen, trying to be quiet as to not wake the children or ruin my husbands evening too much, and I was trying to find my phone. I was routing around the counter moving papers with rotas and staff numbers on, and I just couldn't find it. I then realised it was actually in my hand, held up to my ear. I had been on the phone that much, that holding the phone to my ear with one hand and doing things with the other, had become a default position. I was not on a phone call at the time.


Or the time when the staff member on the phone asked me why my children were crying in the background, my simply answer was because I was on the phone to them. I had been on the phone trying to find staff, solve problems, coordinate many an issue, for so long, that my children were being neglected. At the time my husband worked weekends as he was a chef and my parents disagreed with me being on call as it impacted on family life too much, so I couldn't ask them to help. Whilst I totally agreed with my parents, it was part of the job, so I was left trying to juggle my little boys and all the problems 200 plus houses bring.


Or the time the phone would ring at 10:30pm and you knew it was because the waking night staff hadn't turned up. So you were then ringing staff members to try and cover that shift. Yes that's right, work was ringing care staff at 10:30pm even as late as 11pm to see if they could come to work. Imagine that, being on a minimum wage job and work interfering in your life at that time of night. This happened frequently. But obviously the chances of finding someone willing to do a waking night at that time was slim.


But actually one of the main reasons it was slim, and the reason many a people were 'too sick' to come in, was that a waking night staff member was paid the same as a day time staff member. This issue got even worse when the ones that were paid to sleep in the houses, then also started to get paid hourly to sleep rather than a set £30 to sleep. So you were asking someone to do nights, mess up their days, shorten their life span (as working nights has been proven to shorten your life expectancy) for the same money as someone that was literally sleeping at work. However the powers that be had decided that everyone should be paid the same rate of pay no matter when they worked, because in their eyes 'people who worked nights did so because that suited them'. No, they did so because it used to be more money, plain and simple.


So ultimately I always knew, when that phone rang at 10:30pm, that was me off out to do a night shift, with a bit of luck I would be able to get a little bit of shut eye on their couch at some point. Because not only do I have to work and still be on call the next day, I also have the children to sort and my own life to live.


But that's enough about on call, it was awful and something I will never do again.



Issue's Starting To Stack Up

So back in the day, my speciality was getting teams to work together. If you could get your staff happy and working as a team, it meant for a happier house and an easier job. So I spent a lot of time recruiting and training staff so that my teams were full. I would volunteer to mentor bank staff so that I always had first pick of staff to cover any additional shifts. I even taught on the induction training so that staff would know who I was and would be more likely to do me a favour! I planned my rotas months in advance so that my houses were always fully covered. I played the long game, knowing the work I put in up front would pay off further down the line.


I planned holidays for my tenants. I kept the parents of the tenants fully informed and happy. I dealt with issues rather than brush them under the carpet. I worked hard. Really dam hard.


One issue that stays in my mind was when I started managing one particular team. It was a well established team but had loads of issues. It all pretty much came down to one member of staff not pulling his weight, so the team felt. In their exact words, 'when we work with him, it's like we are supporting 5 people instead of 4'. This issue had been going on for ages and their previous manager hadn't tackled it. And actually when I sat down with the team, looked at the issues and what had been happening, it was actually really quite bad. The team told me of the time the member of staff had took two people out shopping and forgot the 2nd person that was sat in the back of his car. It was only when a member of staff had asked where such a such was and went outside to look, they had found him still in the back of the car. Or the time I walked in to find everyone hungry at 2pm, as he had forgot to make lunch.


After looking into a few other examples, I then had to sit down with this member of staff I didn't know very well at all, 25 years my senior, and support him to make a doctors appointment to have a memory assessment done as he was showing signs of early onset dementia. I signed him off work and literally drove him to his GP appointment to ensure he went.


I was tackling issue after issue. Another time I recall that was truly awful was when we was supporting an individual who had developed dementia. His needs had become truly great and there was a lot of shouting from him, a high pitched shouting. He lived in a shared house and had lived with his friends for years. It was very distressing for his friends to witness this individuals decline. But the shouting was constant. To the point that when you came home at night, you could still hear the shouting in your ears. The staff were at breaking point. So were his friends. We needed him to move to our care home where they were set up for such needs. But quite simply nobody wanted to fund the extra cost. So the problem was left and ignored. I remember holding out for a mutidisciplinary meeting that was coming up to discuss this individuals case. I remember telling the staff to just hold on a little longer. Pleading with them to stay. They only stayed as they truly cared for the people they supported.


The meeting came, and we discussed his case. The powers that be, all of whom have never worked with the individual or even visited the house, concluded that they would wait and monitor the situation. This broke me. I cried. Everyone stared. The thought of going back to the house and telling the staff they had to continue with this torture was truly too much. They simply either didn't care or had misjudged the gravity of the situation. The next day he moved to the care home. The fact it had got to the point of breaking me and the staff, before it was acted upon was just not ok.



So I Left

So you see, the poo incident was just the straw that broke the camels back. And even though I love supporting people and making people's lives better, I left. And I didn't move to another care job either, I was done. In my eyes at that time, the only way to actually earn a decent wage in care was to move up the ladder, but moving up the ladder simply meant more work, more stress and actually not having any time to care for the people I was there to support. So as great as a carer I was, I left the job, it simply wasn't worth the stress. And certainly wasn't worth what you were paid.


And here in lies the issue of the care staff shortage. What is asked of the staff is too great for the mediocre reward/pay they get. And eventually you simply burn out. The burn out is that severe that you turn totally against the care industry and think you will never do that job again. Hence the industry loses so many decent caring talented people, simply because the staff just aren't treated well enough.



The Next Stage In My Career


I actually went to manage a little independent cinema which was great fun. I remember sitting in the interview wanting this little job so much, just so I could get out of my current job. The owner of the cinema just didn't understand why someone with my qualifications and experience wanted to just have a little job, it was a waste in her eyes. But I was so adamant I wanted a change in pace that I hounded her until she gave me the job! However even at the cinema I still utilised my care background and set up dementia friendly screenings, autism friendly screenings and a children's playgroup. So I still got a little bit of caring type activity in that job too! But covid ended those days there.


So in the midst of a pandemic and me needing a job, I took a leap and became a self employed carer. Mainly because places weren't hiring and care was where my skills were, and quite simply I needed to be able to pay the bills (my husband also got made redundant the same week I did, thanks covid!). At the time I wasn't sure being a self employed carer was even a job. Or whether you were allowed to go off alone and provide care to people, without the backing of a big company. But it turns out you absolutely can!


So back into care I went. But this time, as a self employed carer.


And oh boy, I'm glad I did.


I had always wanted to run my own care business and provide high quality care the way it should be done. Turning all my hard work into an actual business that benefitted me and the people I support. But without the hassle and stress of managing staff.


And I was wrong, there is a way to make a decent living from care, heading up the management ladder was definelty not it, but going self employed was a game changer for sure.


I have never been happier to be back in the care industry for sure. My simple hope, is that others will join me in becoming a self employed carer and discover a better way to deliver care for all.



Written by Maria Tomlinson

Self Employed Carer

Founder of the Professional Carers Network

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