Commissioner demands apology on ‘disgraceful’ elder care

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The Commissioner for Older People has demanded an apology from the health minister after what she said were “disgraceful” failures in the care of older people.

Claire Keatinge also slammed the performance of the regulator for care homes, RQIA, health trusts and published a checklist of demands for reform of the system.

The commissioner is now launching her own review into the issues and called for new legislation which would allow care home owners to be prosecuted.

She said: “The findings of the independent review of Cherry Tree House Nursing and Residential Care Home [in Carrickfergus] are deeply concerning for me as they set out a damning catalogue of poor care, with complaints having been made by relatives of residents, staff and others over many years, and shockingly, consistent failures by the home to make the necessary improvements.

“Over eight years Cherry Tree House continually failed to fully comply with regulations, and did not meet even the expected minimum standards of care required. Time and time again issues of concern about poor care were raised and the necessary improvements and changes not made or adequately sustained from inspection to inspection.

“The scandal of Cherry Tree House is that in spite of a system of registered owners and managers, care home standards, professional standards and registration, inspections, protections for whistle-blowers, improvements and compliance requirements, no-one in Northern Ireland can be confident that nursing and residential homes are actually required to meet the necessary standards. Nor can anyone be confident that if shortcomings in care are found that they are rectified immediately and decisively.

“At the heart of this is the appalling reality that vulnerable older people lived in a care home in which some were treated badly, at risk of assault or abuse, not cared for properly and if they or their relatives spoke out some were removed from the home, and felt passed off as ‘troublemakers’. The staff and relatives who raised concerns about care at Cherry Tree House felt bullied and victimized, ignored and disregarded with their concerns not properly addressed; this is shameful.

“This is a disgraceful account of a poisonous combination of poor management, bullying behaviour, abuse, neglect and generally substandard care by a care home, compounded by a regulator (the RQIA) which did not adequately ensure that improvements were made, and Health and Social Care Trusts which continued to place vulnerable older people in a care home that over many years did not even meet the minimum standards required.

“The registered home owner clearly disregarded the wellbeing and safety of the vulnerable older people in his care repeatedly over many years; he failed in his duty of care.

“The RQIA inspection reports highlight shortcomings in care at Cherry Tree House – yet again and again enforcement of actions required did not take place and issues raised in one inspection continued to be a problem at the next inspection; RQIA failed to secure adequate improvements in the quality of the services provided.

“The Health and Social Care Trusts which placed vulnerable older patients in Cherry Tree House relied too heavily on assurances Cherry Tree House management and continued to place vulnerable older people in Cherry Tree House in spite of its persistent failure to meet even minimum standards; they failed in their duty of care.

“Staff and agency workers who felt their concerns were not being dealt with by the management of Cherry Tree House raised their concerns as ‘Whistle-blowers’. They felt bullied and disregarded to the point that after raising complaints many times, they felt they had no choice but to make a direct approach to the Minister for Health Social Services and Public Safety.

She called on Health Minister Edwin Poots to “apologise to everyone who lived at Cherry Tree House who suffered abuse, poor care, and had their later years blighted by cruelty and neglect” and to accept and implement the recommendations in full as highlighted in the RQIA report.

The commissioner also called on Minister Poots to ensure ;-

- Full compliance at Cherry Tree House and allow no further breaches of standards.

- ‘Whistle-blowers’ and residents or relatives who raise concerns about poor care or abuse are better protected from unfair treatment.

- Inspection processes are more rigorous and adequate resourcing for the RQIA.

- Health and Social Care Trusts do not continue to place vulnerable older people in homes where there are unresolved failures.

- New legislation which includes a criminal charge of corporate neglect to allow prosecution of care home owners.