A Female Carer’s Perspective: Myra’s Story

Care companies should inform their clients and clients families if they are planning to send males to perform a female’s personal care. However this does not always happen. At the beginning of 2023, 88 year old Myra was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer. The cancer triggered a rare autoimmune disorder- paraneoplastic neurological syndrome (PNS). The PNS caused cognitive impairment and affected Myra’s speech and balance. Quite quickly the condition advanced to such a point that Myra required help from two people to move about the house safely and her personal assistant Florence could no longer tend to all of her needs as a sole carer. The NHS Continuing Care Coordinator from her local trust organised an external care provider to send assistance 4 times a day. In April, unannounced a male continuing care giver arrived at Myra’s home. He was nice enough, but his presence was unexpected and caused unnecessary distress to both a dying elderly woman and her husband. Florence asked that he stay in the sitting room and not provide intimate care and allowed his female colleague to assist. If Florence was not there it is perfectly possible that Myra and her husband (also cared for by Florence) would not have been able to assert their boundaries and rights to dignity and respect as per CQC Regulation 10.

Both Florence and Myra’s daughter contacted the care team to state Myra’s expressed wishes for same sex care provisions. After being assured by the NHS care coordinator that no males would be sent to administer continuing care to Myra, a man was sent on 3 separate occasions the following week. To say this caused upset and distress is an understatement. Myra was visibly upset and her husband who suffers vascular dementia as well as COPD was extremely unsettled. Vascular dementia carries with it a propensity for behavioural problems including agitation and aggression which is upsetting for the sufferer and those around them. Florence’s male client was left banging his fists and crying at the repeated intrusion of a male care-giver. This in turn set off breathing difficulties associated with COPD. It took a lot of time to calm him down and regulate his breathing. Once he was calm Florence had to then explain that the continuing care team would be back again for the bedtime visit. Myra became more anxious every time she heard the door, for fear that a male carer would call again. In total a male was sent on approximately 10 separate occasions. Sometimes he would remain outside in the car out of respect for Myra’s dignity, and as not to unsettle her husband. However the result of this was that only one female carer would be able to perform care duties when to do so safely two people were required. This was ultimately unsatisfactory and Myra found it more stressful and upsetting than helpful. As a result the decision was made to cancel the continuing care altogether and Myra’s daughter took 6 months off work to assist Florence with her mother’s care. Myra passed away aged 89 at home with her daughter by her side on 29th September 2023. She will be remembered as a beautiful woman who put others first and always faced adversity with a smile.

This sort of situation is heartbreaking and completely avoidable. Both the NHS and the care providers are bound by CQC regulations, yet they continue to ignore the rights to dignity and respect of those who rely on their services.