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'Overworked’ WiiCare staff quitting firm over delayed wages

Care staff are facing a bleak Christmas after quitting their jobs claiming they had not been paid.

WiiCare, which provides home help for elderly people across north Kent, has been heavily criticised by the health watchdog for poor management and lack of payment to employees.

Following an inspection in September, the Care Quality Commission ruled that the company did not employ enough staff, provide them with proper support, or pay on time. There were no methods in place for accidents, incidents and complaints to be properly recorded.

WiiCare's Neil Coombs
WiiCare's Neil Coombs

Founder Neil Coombs, who lives in Longfield, insisted such problems had been resolved but former and remaining employees have rejected his claims, with many still owed hundreds of pounds and given no indication as to when they will get paid.

Some staff protested outside the company’s Rochester headquarters last week and resignations have left clients in Dartford, Gravesham, Medway and Swanley without sufficient care.

Ellen Collins, 21, left the company in September having not been paid on time since April, and is still owed £700. It has left her with debts and struggling to do her Christmas shopping.

She said: “When I first started at WiiCare it was really good, but too many contracts were taken on and there weren’t enough carers. I started in June 2015 and stayed as long as I could because you get attached to them.

“There are so many good carers working for WiiCare that don’t get treated right. One girl and I got assigned something like 40 calls in one day once, and had to fit them in between 6.30am and 4pm. You end up missing calls and some of the clients’ needs don’t get met.”

Karen Murphy, 49, started working for WiiCare after Mr Coombs bought out her previous employer, Care Watch. She became a WiiCare employee in June and left in August, having previously spent three years with the previous company.

She has now moved to Here 2 Care, mainly covering Medway.

She said: “As soon as I started at WiiCare clients said the quality of care was not there, and the staff training was not good enough. I wasn’t being paid on time either and I couldn’t work for a company that I didn’t believe in. I have never known a care company like it.”

Frail patients are more likely to suffer falls, immobility, delirium and incontinence. Stock picture
Frail patients are more likely to suffer falls, immobility, delirium and incontinence. Stock picture

For Beth Francis, 19, of Temple Hill, Dartford, WiiCare was her first job in the care industry. She started in May last year and left in June of this year.

She said: “There were late payments, they made me work over 100 hours a week because they didn’t have the staff, and they took me out on double rounds on my own. Double shifts are designed for two people to do, so I was being overworked. In the morning I would have three or four calls an hour, so roughly on a full day I would have 35 to 40 calls.

“There were times when I would work 6am until 10pm and then have to start work again at 6am the next day.”

Ms Francis has now moved on to work at a Bupa care home in Wilmington, where she says she has received the training she needed, adding: “It wasn’t really about the money for me, but it was getting to the point that I couldn’t pay the bills.

“It was hard to leave because I wasn’t thinking of me, I was thinking about what the clients had to put up with. They were paying for a 45-minute call but would only get about 20 minutes.” The CQC report included detail of carers being assigned too many calls and not being paid on time.

Mr Coombs did not respond to the Messenger’s request for a comment on the staff dispute, but did respond to the CQC report last month.

The 33-year-old blamed staff payment problems on a delay in the firm’s own payments from Kent County Council, but a KCC spokesman said there were no outstanding payment issues.

KCC also said it would be reducing the number of people it places under the company’s care and would not be assigning WiiCare any future clients.

WiiCare was set up by Mr Coombs after he battled back from redundancy and depression. He recently won a NatWest Enterprise Award.

The firm is still rated good by the CQC for being effective, caring and responsive, although these ratings have not been updated since April 2015.

Speaking in response to the report, Mr Coombs said: “If the CQC came to inspect us today or tomorrow I’m confident we’d be rated good or outstanding.”

Joan Mitchell, 76, has been left appalled by the standard of care she receives from WiiCare
Joan Mitchell, 76, has been left appalled by the standard of care she receives from WiiCare

Joan Mitchell, 76, of Westgate Road, Dartford, has been looked after by WiiCare since July last year having already been transferred through a number of care companies by Kent County Council in recent years.

While she has been left disappointed and upset by the service she has received from several of the companies, none have left her more angry than WiiCare. Mrs Mitchell has severe mobility issues and spends most of her day sat in her living room, unable to move beyond her bed just a metre or so to her right.

Carers are meant to call in three times a day to ensure she gets breakfast, lunch and dinner. They are also responsible for cleaning the kitchen.

“I have been a volunteer in Dartford for 30 years and I know that this lady is not getting proper care and that it’s affecting her health. She doesn’t deserve what’s happening to her” - Sabrina Birch

They regularly do not show up, meaning that Mrs Mitchell has gone days without food. She says many of those who do show up regularly leave her home in an awful state and fail to stay for the allotted time.

Mrs Mitchell said: “The standard is despicable. I have never seen anything like it.”

She says that while some of the carers are excellent, the better ones have left following disputes over payment. Mrs Mitchell moved to Dartford with sister Eileen in 1966 and has lived in the same house for most of the past 50 years, occasionally returning to her native Trinidad.

The treatment from WiiCare has left Mrs Mitchell dreaming of a move back to her homeland.

Her son Colin said: “Hearing these ridiculous stories about my mother starving for days is very concerning for me personally, but I am also sure that there must be many other people suffering in the same way.”

So long as Joan is still in Dartford, she relies on help and support from her friend Sabrina Birch, who has been caring for her as often as she can for the last two and a half years.

Ms Birch said: “I have been a volunteer in Dartford for 30 years and I know that this lady is not getting proper care and that it’s affecting her health. She doesn’t deserve what’s happening to her.”

Neil Coombs said: "We have taken on more contracts and obviously that's come with more service users and more responsibility.

"We started to grow quite substantially in April and we had clients going months on end without paying us.

"KCC have started to really improve matters and the NHS is fantastic, I've never had issues with them at all, but Medway council still aren't paying us on time.

Mr Coombs said he his company was improving and reiterated his confidence that its next CQC report would be glowing.

He said WiiCare's problems were representative of an industry-wide funding issue, with companies across the sector up against it.

He added: "I know that councils are doing all they can with what they haven't got, but healthcare is such an important industry."

Yesterday the government announced a plan to allow councils to increase tax bills by up to 6% over the next two years in the face of increased demand for care.

Medway council denied Mr Coombs' claims that he had not received payments on time.

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