A BBC investigation has unveiled distressing revelations about the exploitation of care workers from overseas at a northeast England care home.
A significant proportion of the workforce in care homes is comprised of nurses and care workers from abroad, eligible for skilled worker visas in the U.K. To work in the country, they must be sponsored by an employer. If they decide to leave their current employment, they are required to secure another suitable position within 60 days or face the prospect of returning to their home country.
Workers at Prestwick Care, interviewed by an undercover Panorama reporter Balakrishnan Balagopal, indicated that they believed their contracts were inhibiting them from resigning. The BBC inquiry additionally uncovered insufficient staffing levels, a situation health professionals warned could jeopardise the safety of vulnerable residents. Prestwick Care refutes any allegations of systematic misconduct or poor practices.
Taking the role of a care assistant at Addison Court in Crawcrook, Balakrishnan served from September to November. Through his inquiry, Balakrishnan uncovered that care workers are being billed substantial amounts by an Indian recruitment agency. Additionally, nurses are bound by extended contracts with care homes, facing substantial financial penalties if they opt to terminate their employment prematurely.
Housing over 50 elderly residents, Addison Court charges an average weekly fee of approximately £1,100. These fees are covered by the local authority, the NHS, the residents themselves, or their families. Similar to numerous care homes in the UK, Addison Court relies heavily overseas workers.
Nearly one-third of Prestwick Care’s workforce consists of employees from overseas, as revealed by the BBC investigation. The inquiry highlighted a case where a Kerala resident, who arrived on a sponsored visa in 2018, faced legal action from the home, alleging a debt of over £5,000. Moreover, he was informed that his contract prohibited him from working for any competing care home for six months. The legal dispute was ultimately resolved by his new employer.
Prestwick Care refutes any allegations of misconduct or systematic wrongdoing concerning their treatment of overseas care workers.
Compounding the issue for some Addison Court staff is the fact that they also incurred expenses between £6,000 and £10,000 for their visas through the recruitment agency BGM Consulting. Had they applied directly through the UK government website, a three-year visa would have cost only £551.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) emphasises that companies should refrain from collaborating with recruitment agents who impose fees on job seekers.
In the year to September 2023, the UK issued 140,000 visas for international health and care workers, a significant increase from the previous year. Notably, 39,000 of these visas were granted to individuals from India.