Neglect in Care Homes: “How many people have suffered?”
July 4, 2012
The Fresh Outlook
The Fresh Outlook hears first-hand of the ongoing struggle with neglect and the ineffective complaints process in elderly care homes.
The treatment of the UK’s ageing population has long been a cause for concern, a feature that was recently highlighted by the BBC’s Panorama programme. While government cuts have not affected elderly care homes directly, cuts to council budgets have. A survey by the Common’s health committee found that councils were cutting social care budgets by an average of 6.6%, while at the same time raising charges for services such as home help. It has even been suggested that in light of the recent cuts to council budgets, care homes have reduced the number of non-essential activities in order to cut on expenses.
John*, whose father is a resident in care, told us that unless there is immediate danger to the patient’s life no action is taken. Complaints about the quality of life for the patient are not taken seriously. Despite promises of outdoor activates and day trips, John says that his father’s care home has not delivered and he worries that he is being neglected.
John found that there was no positive action taken toward his direct complaints to the care home. Instead, he felt his concerns were met with unprofessional, defensive and accusing responses. “The home has not responded well,” John said. “Every time I make a complaint direct to the care home, the local authority commissioning manager is on the phone or writes me a letter saying that the care home are thinking about asking Dad to leave or that I could be banned from going in there. That’s the way they deal with it.”
So John tried a new approach. He registered a complaint with the local authority. But even this was a battle, he said. John found that as local authorities collaborate with care homes it is not an impartial relationship.
“The commissioning manager of the local authority is the man who goes round recruiting care homes and it is his problem if the care homes were no longer,” John said. “It would be his problem to find new ones. I can understand his situation but as far as I’m concerned the local authority regard care home owners as sacrosanct. They won’t utter a word against them.”
So John turned to the The Care Quality Commission (CQC). Age UK describe the agency as a place to turn for help: “If you are not satisfied with any aspect of the service you receive from a body registered with the CQC, you can inform them … This could include, for example, making a report about poor standards of care in a care home.” But John discovered that the CQC don’t respond to individual complaints.
“They want to know complaints, they want to hear all your grievances, all your accusations, but they don’t acknowledge it,” said John.
Then John lodged a complaint with The Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) – an independent, impartial, free service that aims to promote fair and effective public administration.
But John found this a challenge too. “The trouble with [the LGO] has been that if a resident is funded by the local authority all the LGO will do is investigate the local authority; they don’t go to the care home,” he said.
“About a year ago the law changed to say that if somebody privately funded themselves then the LGO would investigate the care home. I made a complaint to the LGO, bearing in mind that the local authority is only paying one eighth of my father’s care home fees, but the LGO said that my father is publically funded. They stated that they had investigated the local authority and couldn’t find anything wrong.
“The whole thing is designed not to put any of the care home owners in the frame whatsoever.”
Eventually John wrote to the police as he considered the ongoing neglect to his father’s well being as “wilful neglect”. He received a call from a sergeant some weeks later, who proposed that he would present the case to the local authority, despite John explaining his own personal efforts with them had been futile. 18 months later he still hadn’t had a response.
In an effort to create public awareness about his experiences of the elderly care system, John has set up carehomemonitor.co.uk. The site states: “Our mission is to monitor the standards of Care in Care Homes and also to advise appropriate action where a relative or friend suspects abuse.”
John’s ongoing experiences with the care home has highlighted the inadequacy of the complaints process and drawn attention to the neglect which residents continue to suffer. For years, the lack of personal or professional response and action from the complaints he has made have left him feeling isolated and frustrated by his situation: “I’m not saying all homes are bad – I’m sure there are good ones out there – but I’m dealing with a bad one.
“When you think about it, how many people have suffered for how long? How many people have died or been hospitalised because of neglect? It’s disgusting.”
The FreshTies campaign
As part of its campaign and policy work, human rights organisation FreshTies proposes independent volunteer care home visitors as a confidential listening ear for residents, or family members. The volunteer reports could provide a central log of concerns, as well as good practice. Then the inspection body and local authority would have a trusted basis for investigation; and family members, residents and care home staff would no longer be a lone voice.
Currently, the inspection of care homes is covered by the CQC. This proposal would assist the CQC with its inspection capacity. Nonetheless, the CQC should not be informing care homes, in advance, of an inspection.
The Independent Custody Visitors service is currently used in police stations as a volunteered, impartial presence. The equivalent would create a trusted source for care home employees, family members and residents to use.
So what can you do?
Please get in touch if you: have experienced issues similar to those discussed in this article; support the general principle of this proposal; have expertise that you would like to share; or to help inform more people about the campaign.
*Names have been changed.
By Sarah Leyland
[Image courtesy of evsmvf]