‘I Would Never Put A Relative Of Mine In A Private Home’

A carer has spoken out about the “culture of neglect” experienced by patients in private care homes. For more than 10 years, Lisa-Jane Dunn, 36, from Champion Hill in Camberwell, worked in a range of care facilities including homes for the elderly, mentally ill, adults with behavioural and learning difficulties and people with degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

Mistreatment in care homes often hits the headlines. In March, the South London Press reported how a major police investigation was launched after six members of staff were suspended from Limetree Care Centre in Lime Tree Close, Streatham. There were allegations of elderly people being restrained and assaulted in the home. Last month, the Government’s NHS watchdog announced every home for people with learning disabilities in England was to be inspected.

It followed an inquiry in Cornwall where people with autism and cerebral palsy were being bullied and harassed by NHS staff. But it was a more basic lack of care and respect that has left Lisa-Jane disillusioned.

She said: “I saw carers chuck any old clothes on people – whether they were theirs, whether they matched. “They would rush them down for their breakfast, often without bothering to brush their teeth or their hair.

“In one place it was like a race. It was gloves on and upstairs. We would have to get three people down for breakfast in half-an-hour.You put them in a wheelchair, in the lift, at the table and it was back upstairs to get the next one.

“You would be told off for taking too long.” She added: “For some of them it was frightening – people with Alzheimer’s were scared of someone unknown hurriedly washing them.”

Lisa-Jane describes how elderly people were left in front of a television all day. “She would try to entertain them with shows or board games, but many other carers did not bother.

Lisa-Jane said: “The carers would just sit around. “At lunchtime the food was pushed down the patients, they were told to eat quicker. It broke my heart.”

She also believed that some owners were more interested in profit than looking after their clients. She said at one home, the owners would turn up in an expensive car, but the “food for the clients would be rehashed left overs. It didn’t matter if a person had particular dietary needs, or was vegetarian or couldn’t eat certain things because of their religion.

She added: “I believe these people got about £666 from social services for each person.”

At other homes she experienced staff shortages or worked alongside carers with little or no qualifications. Sometimes their grasp of English was not good.

“I got a job working with adults with behavioural problems with no criminal record checks or references,” she said. “Some people would get a job by saying they looked after their mother in Ghana or wherever for a year.”

At one home for adults with behavioural problems she was left with stitches in her leg after one got angry and turned a table over. She said: “These people had mental health problems and the home did not have the support to deal with them.”

Lisa-Jane found she had a talent for caring while working as a temporary secretary in mental health centres. She decided to take a level 3 NVQ qualification at the Maudsley Hospital in Denmark Hill. During the day she worked at a day care centre for mental health patients – which she enjoyed – and took an A-level in psychology. She started an occupational therapy course at Brunel University but left when she decided she wanted to do more hands-on caring. At a work experience placement in one home she was told not to bother brushing a woman’s hair or put lipstick on her.

She said: “I was told that was not my job – my job was to adapt homes and get equipment such as special cutlery. I thought it was so cold. It was when I started working in private care homes that the problems started.

“It’s good money but I’ve seen what happens in these homes. I would never put a relative of mine in one.”

She is now looking forward to a new job working with terminally ill patients – not at a private care home. But despite all this, Lisa-Jane is keen to point out: “I have seen carers who just do not care. But I have seen a lot of good carers. It’s just the working conditions they are expected to deal with.”