Care agencies 'must ensure recruits can speak English'


Dr Shereen Hussein, government adviser: 'Poor English puts users at risk'

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Recruitment agencies should ensure care workers can speak English before placing them in vulnerable people's homes, a government adviser has said.

Dr Shereen Hussein, scientific adviser to the Department of Health, told BBC Radio 5 live that poor language skills could lead to bad care and abuse.

Figures from King's College London say 20% of care workers are migrants.

Care minister Norman Lamb said communication skills would be required for the new Care Certificate.

The brother of one dementia sufferer told the BBC his carers struggled to communicate.

'Exceptionally difficult'

Phil, whose full name we have withheld, has a 62-year-old brother with a severe form of dementia. He employed carers for 18 months to oversee the care of his brother, but grew frustrated with the quality of the staff.

He told 5 live Breakfast the situation grew so problematic he took the decision to put his brother in a care home.

"The dynamic between the carers and a frightened man who was suffering with dementia didn't work most of the time," he said. "Almost all the carers were from overseas, mainly from Poland.

"I found some of them exceptionally difficult to understand, which meant my brother, in his condition, was never going to understand them and the reaction from him was to hide or get slightly violent."

Dr Hussein, of King's College London's Social Care Workforce Research Unit, advises the Department of Health in England and said that changes to immigration policy and the relaxation of EU labour rules has altered the profile of migrants who work as carers in the UK.

Start Quote

For people to get the care they want they need to be able to communicate with their care workers”

End Quote Norman Lamb Care minister

She said: "Migrants from outside the European Union have a long history of working in the UK's care sector, and have always had to prove their efficiency in the English language before securing jobs in the industry, but this is not the case with new arrivals from EU countries.

"This means new migrants can be vulnerable when they're placed in people's homes - and carers have reported instances of racism and discrimination that stem from communication problems."

In some UK cities it is thought around half of care workers are foreign nationals.

Dr Hussein added: "It would be really beneficial to have a standard interview process to establish English language proficiency, communication skills and softer skills of all care workers aiming to work in the sector.

"At the moment, vulnerable workers are placed in the homes of vulnerable adults with complex needs, and sometimes communication problems can result in bad treatment for both parties."


BBC Radio 5 live Breakfast spoke to some former care workers from Hungary, who gave examples of times where they struggled to communicate with clients.

Hajnalka Deak, who came to the UK to work as a care worker in 2008, said: "To do the job you have to understand the doctor's instructions, report to relatives and speak to the agencies.

"You have to help clients do things they can't do for themselves, and it's essential to understand their instructions right away.

"I remember once I worked with a wheelchair-user.

"I had to strap him in the the car, unfortunately I couldn't understand the exact instructions and we had to stay at home and couldn't go anywhere.

"I felt partly embarrassed and partly frustrated."

Former care workers Edna Maharig (left) and Hajnalka Deak (right) Former carers Edna Maharig (l) and Hajnalka Deak spoke of language barriers

But Edna Maharig, who has joint Hungarian-Jordanian nationality and worked as a carer from 2011 until last week, told 5 live having a grasp of the English language is not the most important thing when it comes to being a good carer.

"There are certain terms and technical words that we don't understand and that's difficult... but it's more important to have empathy and understand your role as a carer," she said.

Dr Hussein told 5 live Breakfast the onus should be on the care agencies to prove their recruits can speak the English required for the job, and not the workers themselves.

She said: "We know that migrants form a very considerable part of social care workforce and their work is really valuable and important to the system.

"But we also know the work is reliant on very good communication skills. This standardised interview would not be a deterrent for migrant workers, but it will mean care agencies identify areas where induction and training is needed before they go to people's own homes and provide intimate care to them."

Council cutbacks

Care agencies are contracted by local authorities to supply home care to elderly and vulnerable adults.

Councils in England have been hit by more than £2bn in budget cuts for adult social care since 2011.

Colin Angel, of the UK Home Care Association, which represents the interests of care agencies, said: "Dr Hussein has identified an issue at a time when public spending on social care is extremely constrained and with the low rates that local authorities are currently paying for home care it's extremely difficult for agencies to increase the amount of paid training.

"Terms and conditions of the work-force are being pushed closer to the national minimum wage under the strain of spending cuts."

At the weekend the BBC learned the government is planning a scheme meaning new care workers will have to earn a training certificate in topics such as dementia care and patient dignity within 12 months of starting a job from March 2015.

English language proficiency is not included in this training remit however, according to Dr Hussein.

Care minister Norman Lamb said: "For people to get the care they want they need to be able to communicate with their care workers. Employers are responsible for recruiting staff that can competently speak and read English but communication will be a key part of the new Care Certificate.

"This certificate will show the people who use care services that the person in front of them has been trained to a specific set of standards and knows how to act with compassion and respect."

The Labour Party has launched its own review into exploitation in the care sector, overseen by Baroness Kingsmill, which is due to be published later this month.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    Well done Dr Hussein for highlighting this. English should definitely be included in the new certificate scheme.

    Those saying that everybody in the UK should be able to speak English; in an ideal world, yes, but it'll never happen. Therefore, it is correct to focus on and highlight areas where it causes the biggest problems. Prioritisation, that's how things work in the real world.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    I fail to see how care for the elderly can be possible without the ability to communicate. It's disgusting that it's allowed to go on. Maybe this is one area of employment where wages cannot be dropped to rock bottom and will have to be raised to better reflect the level of commitment required to provide a proper service.

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    How can you care for someone without being able to communicate with them and understand when they are telling you there is a problem, they are in pain, need the toilet etc or for the careworker to communicate any concerns they have about the patient's welfare?

    Basic ability and blindingly obvious.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    Wow its taken time for this problem to raise its head. This is prolific through many jobs in the UK . Its called a Language barrier Problem. The government has never set correct standards for foreigners coming to the UK and now we have the outcome. The standards to come and work in the UK should have been set 15 years ago, mainly to be-able to speak good English.

  • Comment number 41.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    31.Ms Rant - To those saying migrants do the jobs brits won't do - surely the answer is if those on benefit won't do the work, stop their benefit. This is why there is so much resentment

    Yeah, that's how you give the elderly the care they deserve. By forcing them people to 'care' for them under duress.
    I can't see any problems with this at all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    I don't care where a worker is from. I don't care what colour they are. I don't care what accent they have. I don't care what religion guides their life.

    I do care that they talk to me in my language.

    It is not racist. It is not nationalistic. It is good manners and essential in a service delivered to the UK. Whether social care/ telesales/ or any other sector.

    This is non-negotiable.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    I would have thought that as a carer being able to speak English was a blindingly obvious requirement?
    I'd go further and say that doing any job within the UK would require the person to be able to speak and understand English.
    Oh, bring on the election in May 2014 and 2015!

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    Who are these agencies that have been employing staff that cannot speak English?

    Why have employers been accepting agency staff who cannot speak English?

    No doubt it all happens to further the interest of their profits..

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    English is important to read the instructions, and communicate to the agency, to write the log sheet, medication etc, how ever what if the service users only use the sign language? will all the carers get train in the sign language?
    When the company hire the foreign carers, are these carers speaking English during interview / no interview?

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    'The obvious' seems to escape our Politicians time and time again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    8 Dynamo
    Re speaking and reading english - the government shouldn't wait for 2 years before putting people into classes, when they arrive to sign on, and don't have good english, they should go to classes straight away. Do the same for criminals with poor skills too - better chance they won't re-offend. Lack of joined up thinking.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    how about claiming any benefits in this country require the same?

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    Why does it need a Muslim doctor to tell us this HYS?.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    How can you care for someone you can't communicate with?
    Elderly person points to foot saying they have pain there,.
    Carer puts slipper on foot that elderly person has just struggled to remove because of pain!

    To those saying migrants do the jobs brits won't do - surely the answer is if those on benefit won't do the work, stop their benefit. This is why there is so much resentment

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    'speaking understandable english' and 'willing to work in the care industry' seem to be 2 mutually exclusive entities

    We really must ask ourselves, why dont our underemployed unemployed want to look after our growing legion of old folk?

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    I don't know where you live, but where I live that is certainly well above the advertised carer rate! If it was that much, I think more Brits would apply for carer jobs. As it is, they don't because the hours and benefits are terrible in relation to the pay received.

    As for the actual story, why is it even being discussed? Everyone living here should speak decent English.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    Just on the off chance, how does it work when the vulnerable people cant speak English also?

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    It should go further than care workers. I visited an NHS dentist, and I couldn't understand a word of what he was saying, not one word!

    Why don't we train some unemployed people to be dentists? I'm sure they would love the chance. I saw some BBC thing saying that the NHS was recruiting nurses from Spain. Why? Don't want to pay an English nurse a pension maybe. No, but why? Train our unemployed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    Maybe if we lived in a country that didn't treat people as cogs in a money making machine we wouldn't have this problem.


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