Channel 4’s Undercover Boss,were we taken for a ride?

July 31, 2012 | By | 3 Replies More


Pam Finnis Managing director, HC-One

Was last night’s Channel 4 programme nothing more than a public relations exercise for HC-One? Did we learn anything from it? The introduction to the programme suggested that even with significant investment and tried and tested plans to fill beds HC-One is still not up to capacity and running at less than 90% occupancy.

Even at the end of the programme when good staff had been ‘treated’ there was a feeling that the real problems are external. Government cuts have signalled to local authorities that the way to cut costs is to reduce the number of people going into care homes.




Basic maths suggest that with rising costs for care home operators and reductions in funding from local authorities any business that has secured ex-Southern Cross residential homes needs to get their new residents from self funders. In the end the reason Southern Cross failed was the reduced payments from local authorities.

I spoke to a senior healthcare professional today who wishes to remain anonymous but for whom I have a great deal of respect, she had this to say;

‘’ Whilst I just love good stories about care homes, given the almighty bashing the industry seems to be permanently in line for from the mainstream press, I did have concerns about the programme from the outset.

Call me an old cynic, but I wasn’t impressed.  To me it came across as just a PR exercise for HC-One with pre-selected homes to show the business in as positive a light as possible. 
Massive long term under-investment coupled with a relentless (and increasingly adverse in the face of the challenges and funding constraints) rent obligation meant the financial model broke down long ago. I know of a Southern Cross care home manager whose delegations of authority were so limited that she wasn’t trusted to order a single ink cartridge without head office signing it off as authorised expenditure.

Micro management at that level is intensive and can be completely nonsensical, often costing more than any efficiency savings it purports to deliver. Just as importantly, it usually incapacitates and takes away any perception of ownership by the managers, which in turn leaves them unable to lead, which is vital to the on-going success of any care home. I sincerely hope HC-One takes a different approach but I’m afraid only time will tell. They talked about “bringing forward pay reviews”, promising nothing and not admitting that pay rates within care are scandalous and missing the opportunity to be a beacon of light. If you pay someone the same rates they could get stacking shelves, you are telling your residents – I refuse to use the term “service users” (without whom you have no business) that they are no more important than baked beans.

On the plus side, I am so pleased that some positive stories came out.  My personal bugbear is the lack of news of the extra mile that carers regularly go. Yesterday I heard about carers who go into a home on their day off so that those people without relatives have someone coming to see them.  This is without any nudging from management – they just care.

All credit to HC-One for putting themselves out there and daring to let the public in – after all, to the majority of people, care is still something that is a bit of a closed shop.  Go to the average man or woman on the street and ask them where their nearest care home is or how they go about finding one, measuring whether or not it’s a good one and I suspect you’ll be met with a barrage of blank faces.  This would then be followed by the assertion that “I’ll never put my mum/dad in a home; I’ll care for them myself.  I’m not deserting them, to be abused or at best ignored”.  This, I believe is still the general perception of the industry, no matter how much sterling work has been done by those inside it.  This perception is fostered to both greater and lesser degrees, by the local referral teams, many of whom see private care home owners as evil capitalists, simply there to make money.

Of course they want to make money…that’s how more jobs are created, more local suppliers are kept in business, and more money is paid back into the economy!  Contrary to popular belief, not all care home owners swan about in sports cars, in between jaunts to their villa on the continent. 

I don’t blame HC-One for carefully selecting the homes they allowed to be in this programme.  If they’d really gone undercover and even one small issue had been found, CQC would have been back in the firing line for not doing their job properly. 

For any homes which fail to meet the required standards, steps should be taken to ensure people are not at risk and that if they are, that things are either improved quickly, or people are moved to homes which will provide the safe and caring environment they have every right to expect.  How we treat our vulnerable says so much about us as society as a whole. 

However, a note to the commissioning teams – trying to get top notch care at bargain bucket prices just doesn’t work.  Corners end up having to be cut and then who wins?  No-one.  The owners can’t provide the right care, occupancy and therefore income drops and homes close.  Service users are moved, sometimes away from a home they’ve been happy in for years.  Families have the stress of an already difficult situation made worse and carers lose their jobs. 

Whilst the utopia of local authority homes seems to appeal to the majority of the public, if our mainstream press is anything to go by, based mainly on a belief that care should never have been privatised and that making money from this industry is immoral (I have heard this exact phrase straight from the mouth of a social worker), the bare economic facts are that many local authority homes are being closed as they no longer comply with the regulations regarding the environment and councils do not have the cash to remedy this.  This has been the case for a number of years and will only get worse’’

So there we have it. HC-One was extremely brave but there was an element of orchestration and the programme would have been far more interesting if HC-One had not had control over the homes filmed.

The understaffing at night was questionable given that a good manager would have reported this and a request for more night staff put forward, if that was the case then clearly HC-One had ignored it. Perhaps this goes on in every care home and that was the tip of the iceberg?

The overriding message was that good staff are hard but not impossible to find. Poor wages are something we must address and carers must be given the respect they deserve.

To the carers who were filmed-You deserve your weight in gold and it’s time we as a society recognised this.





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Category: Activities in Care, Alzheimer's Care, Care Industry News, Care News, Care Operators, Care Workers, Careers in Care, Dementia Care, Elderly care, Elderly People, End of Life Care

Comments (3)

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  1. anon says:

    i also watched the under cover boss and also work for hc one and feel the seniors should be paid at least £8 per hr as there responsibility is greater than the cares but also carers should be paid equealy as some staff are still being paid southen cross rate and they all do the same job

  2. Anon says:

    I also work for HC-One and feel the whole programme was a publicity stunt!
    Shelf-stacker’s in supermarkets are paid more than carers and I feel this is disgusting considering we are caring for human life. The wages are an insult! The carer who featured in the documentary struggling to pay his phone bill is certainly not on his own! Shelf stacker’s in supermarkets are paid more, yet we do a job that involves caring for human life?
    I agree with the above post ( Lisa ) who has made a very valid comment about the amount of money this company is spending. Whilst I agree that some of the commodities are essential, the staff are yet again thrown on to the back-burner and a pay-rise remains a just a ‘thought.’
    If Pam Finnis came to the HC-One care home where I work on a random visit, where units are frequently short-staffed, she would indeed witness a more accurate picture than going undercover on camera at a hand-picked care home. Lisa also mentions training folders that contain modules. These modules have to be completed in your own time and can take up to an hour and half each to complete. The training modules along with the folders, headphones, and pens, are impressive, but what do the staff get out of the training when it is completed? To be blunt, I begrudge doing it when I am paid a pittance of £6.08 per hour.

  3. Lisa says:

    I work for HC-One was definately a PR exercise Pam felt very sorry for the chap who could not pay his phone bill, but what about people who can’t pay their rent and are waiting and waiting for the pay rise that has been priomied since May and noone has heard nothing since, but we have got new signs and minibuses and training folders that must have cost alot!

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