Flying Visits – a homecare worker’s view of the downsides of 15 minute visits

Note: contains plot spoilers.

UKHCA has campaigned for many years against short homecare visits and our members will recognise the key issues raised by BBC Radio 4’s ‘Flying Visits’ programme.

We’ve never heard of a careworker who whisks the person they support to the home of the next person they are due to visit. But that’s exactly how the drama unfolds and the overriding message of this entertaining play was clear.  Fifteen-minute calls are too short to care for people with dignity, and the people who feel the pressure are frontline careworkers.

In Flying Visits, careworker Hayleigh was faced with a series of impossible dilemmas, needing rapid decisions within the constraints of a 15-minute visit. 

With Mr Ellison’s house flooded, unheated and without electricity, how was she to keep him safe?  Could she still arrive at Brenda’s home in time to administer essential medication?

With little back up from the office (in real life one would expect there would be more), Hayleigh used her initiative and kept Mr Ellison with her.  The unscheduled visit he made to Brenda’s even ended in lasting friendship.  And a formidable pairing (Brenda was ex Greenham Common) which supported Hayleigh in her solo fight against 15 minute visits.

“When Flying Visits was commissioned last August I went on a real binge of meeting with homecare workers, homecare providers and then I sort of went on the same journey as Hayleigh,” said Flying Visits writer Charlotte Bogard MacLeod speaking exclusively to UKHCA.

“I met my local MP Justine Greening.  I went to Reading and met with this fantastic Labour County Councillor Rachel Eden. I even ended up at the House of Commons at the big care meeting. It was amazing meeting all these different people, because the one thing that united them all is that they were all really lovely people. They were all passionate about care and they could all see that they were in crisis but there was no solution on the horizon,” she added.

To expert listeners it was all there in the programme – the topical reference to the Green Paper, a (wilful?) lack of understanding by local councillors, and the positive reference to UNISON’s Ethical Care Charter when the council did, eventually, get it.

A purist might baulk at the omission of reference to NICE guidance NG 21, which outlaws short visits in all but restricted situations.  But few would disagree with the principle that careworkers are still being asked to do too much, in too little time, in a system that gives greater priority to councils’ ailing finances than the dignity of people receiving services.

No wonder Hayleigh spoke constantly of the difficulty her employer had in recruiting, and her concern that further financial strain would result in the business going under.

Increases in National Living Wage, rising pension costs, and regulatory fees, to name but three, all threaten the sustainability of homecare providers if not recognised in council fees.

But it’s the connection with the 15-minute visits that drives the drama and it’s on this point that MacLeod is so passionate.

 “I was asked to pitch for these slots, which are five 15 minute slots, and this made me begin to think, what can you do in 15 minutes? What can be achieved in 15 minutes? I started doing some research online, and I came across these flying visits. Once I started reading up about it I became completely hooked.

“I just couldn’t believe that anyone could be expected to do something that intimate and important by the clock, and in such a short space of time. The more I read about it, the more I became fascinated by it. It just became to me to be a symbol of modern day society. It felt to me to be a metaphor for the connection with people and time with people and our value system.”

A perceptive approach, which did eventually lead to a happy ending.  The council capitulated, and Mr Ellison and Brenda held hands, social isolation at an end.  Hayleigh even earned the admiration of her family for her campaign, a battle she vowed to take nationally.

We trust the right people were listening to the radio.  We could make it required listening for the new Prime Minister, his Cabinet and all those responsible for the Government’s spending review. 

Boris Johnson may have found an extra £1.8 billion for NHS hospitals, but he still has an awful lot to do for social care. 

The sector won’t be palmed off with platitudes and postponements any longer.  It’s time for action to put adult social care on a secure footing and ensure people get the quality care they need, for the right length of time, in a system that is properly funded.

“I’d love to have to not write about 15 minute visits again. I’d love for it to be sorted and for that to be off the agenda,” muses writer MacLeod.

We agree.  We can’t rely on the kind hearts of workers like Hayleigh forever. 


BBC Radio 4’s programme ‘Flying Visits’ is available until the 28th August:

NICE guideline NG21: ‘Home care: delivering personal care and practical support to older people living in their own homes’:

Unison’s Ethical Care Charter: