Health secretary Alex Neil has pledged to end the controversial practice of 15-minute care-at-home visits, which he branded unacceptable.

In a speech to private care providers in Glasgow yesterday he said the increased use by councils of very short visits to care for elderly or disabled adults had rightly caused great concern.

"Very clearly, if a visit is meant to get somebody up and out of their bed in the morning, get them washed, dressed and shaved and give them their breakfast, there is no way on earth that can be done in anything like as short a period as 15 minutes," he said.

Loading article content

He added: "That is totally unacceptable in terms of the quality of care and I am determined that working together with yourselves and Cosla [the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities] we will bring an end to that practice."

He said a short visit might be ­appropriate in a minority of situations, such as to ensure someone had taken medication, but 15-minute blocks were inadequate for the provision of care.

He added: "Where it is a substitute for good quality service it is unacceptable and we should commit ourselves to putting an end to that. The quality of social care at home should be as good as the quality of care in residential services."

A group comprising representatives of councils, senior social workers, and the care inspectorate is looking into the practice and trying to establish how common 15-minute visits are.

Mr Neil said this would provide a benchmark for reducing their use and also shed light on why the short visits were being used so frequently. Earlier this week Scottish Care, which hosted the National Care at Home conference, had branded the use of 15-minute blocks to provide support for vulnerable people as care on the cheap and demanded the abolition of the practice, which it said deprived people of their dignity and put unfair pressure on staff.

Trade union Unison, which has also campaigned on the issue, carried out research which showed all but three local authorities sanction home-care visits for as little as 15 minutes.

In his speech, Mr Neil also pledged to examine the cost of asking employers to commit to paying the living wage, not just in the public and voluntary sector but the private sector as well, in order to tackle high staff turnover and improve skills.

Scottish Care welcomed the commitments, which came as a surprise to many in the independent care sector.

Scottish Care chief executive Ranald Mair said the scope of the minister's pledges were far-reaching and added: "The comments made by Mr Neil indicate not only that he has been listening, but also he has been convinced by the weight of the arguments which we have been putting forward on behalf of our members.

"He has committed [himself] to ending the indignity of 15-minute visits which do not serve the needs of the elderly and also [have an] impact negatively on the hard-pressed staff trying their hardest to provide the best possible care for those they are looking after."

A spokesman for Cosla said the length of visits was an issue that "required some thought".

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said Mr Neil had acknowledged 15-minute visits might still have a role if someone needed only to be checked on or be prompted to take medicine. But Mr Neil said: "This government is unwavering in its ambition that all older people receive quality and compassionate care, regardless of where the care is provided. I'm clear in my view there should be no 15-minute care visits that don't serve the needs of the elderly." He added the living wage could help deliver higher standards.

Dave Watson, Unison's Scottish organiser, said "Even employers want to see this because they are struggling. They can't recruit quality staff unless they pay at least the living wage What matters is not so much how long a care visit is, but that it is enough time to care. Workers tell us their time is often squeezed.

"We need to make time for home carers to care properly."