Families Get Bigger Voice Under Plans To Shake Up Care System

A wholesale reform of the care system will give the elderly and their relatives greater rights to complain about mistreatment and poor standards.

It will also force large private companies operating care homes to undergo tougher inspections.

At the moment, only those whose care home place is funded by their council can make a complaint to the Local Government Ombudsman.

By contrast, self-funders  –  who make up around half of the 440,000 care home residents in Britain  –  can be asked to move out by managers if their families raise concerns about neglect.

Ministers are now planning to change the rules to allow self-funders to take cases to the Ombudsman too.

Regulations will also be strengthened to ensure that senior company managers can be held to account if standards are poor in their homes.

The Daily Mail has highlighted the issue of appalling standards in many homes as part of its Dignity for the Elderly campaign.

A ‘super watchdog’ to be set up next year will demand that large private companies which run hundreds of homes be registered as a group so their bosses have to take responsibility for any systematic failures.

All care homes are currently registered individually, meaning there is no mechanism to force a company to take action if similar failings are found across multiple homes that it owns.

The new super watchdog will be called the Care Quality Commission.

It will be given the power to investigate services across the NHS and social care, and to impose fines on failing residential care companies.

It could also strike off seriously under-performing institutions from the register of care homes. Health secretary Alan Johnson said the legislation to establish the new complaints system would be tabled soon.

He added: ‘Independent redress where complaints are not resolved satisfactorily is an important way of ensuring that all old people, regardless of their means, are treated with dignity and respect.’

But Elizabeth McLennan, policy officer at Help the Aged, said that the complaints role should not be handed to the Ombudsman, which is fundamentally a town hall watchdog.

Instead, she said that problems should be dealt with by the experts at the Care Quality Commission.

‘It is clearly good news that a new complaints system is being set up, but the Government is opening a can of worms,’ she added.

‘It is strange that complaints are going to be handled by people who are not necessarily experts in the field.

‘It is surprising that the Government has not given additional powers to the new CQC to undertake this role since they have intimate knowledge of care homes’ responsibilities.’

Gordon Lishman, director general of Age Concern, echoed these concerns.

He said: ‘It is a big step forward for people who pay for their own care that they now have somewhere to take their complaints.

‘It seems strange though that people will have to go to the Local Government Ombudsman rather than the new Care Regulator. We are also worried that the Ombudsman will not get the extra money needed to cope with all the complaints.’

This summer a damning report from the Commission for Social Care Inspection, which will be subsumed into the new Commission next year, found that half of all care homes fail to look after patients with dementia properly.

There are 13,900 care homes in England. The last round of inspections found that 749 were classed as poor  –  meaning they are unsafe.

‘My mother was failed by the system – not just the care home’

The family of 88-year-old Grace Allenby believe she was failed by the current system of elderly care.

The great-grandmother arrived at Grove Lodge residential home in Middlesbrough as a self-funded resident in 2006.

However, in October last year her health began to deteriorate to such an extent that her family requested she be moved to a facility which could provide full-time nursing care.

But when Mrs Allenby was assessed the same month, her relatives’ concerns were dismissed, and she was not moved until March this year, an inquest into her death heard yesterday.

She arrived at her new care home in a taxi wearing just a nightgown and weighing just six stone.

She was covered in bruises, wounds and bed sores, and her hair was matted.
Two days after she arrived at the new care home, she died.

One worker there told the inquest: ‘I would not put an animal through what that lady went through.

‘Her bandages were just wrapped around her arm as if a child had put them on.’

Mrs Allenby’s daughter-in-law Pauline, from Lincolnshire, added: ‘She was failed by the system – not just the care home.’

Teesside coroner Michael Sheffield recorded that Mrs Allenby, from Cleveland, died from natural causes.