Families upset as care home probe chief changes job

A COUNCIL official who was the link for families involved in a death probe at a South Tyneside care home is working for the company at the centre of the investigation, the Gazette can reveal.

Victoria Barclay was nominated by South Tyneside Council as the person families could turn to with concerns after St Michael’s View care home was thrown into the spotlight after the death of elderly resident Joyce Wordingham.

A police investigation was launched into her death.

The circumstances of the deaths of 15 others at the home are also being probed.

It has emerged Mrs Barclay has left her post as South Tyneside’s assistant head of adult social care and taken up a job with Southern Cross Healthcare, which runs the home in Westoe.

The timing of the move has angered families, who claim they were not informed that Mrs Barclay had left, and has led to concerns that the switch will hamper the investigation.

Mrs Wordingham, 80, died of bronchial pneumonia in February sparking concerns over her care.

Detectives were called in to investigate after the alarm was raised by an out-of-hours GP. Police are also looking at the circumstances of 15 other deaths at the home going back to January last year.

A series of meetings have since taken place in a bid to keep families up to date with the investigation – meetings Mrs Barclay attended to represent South Tyneside Council.

But relatives say they have not been told officially of Mrs Barclay’s departure, despite her leaving the council last month.

A spokesman for the council said: “We can confirm Mrs Barclay worked for the council as assistant head of adult social care. She left the council last month and we are contacting the families.”

Detective Chief Inspector Ian Bentham, who is leading the investigation, said detectives had been made aware of the situation.

Since the probe was launched, 12 members of staff at the home were suspended.

A 46-year-old female nurse was arrested on suspicion of neglect and a 20-year-old male care assistant on suspicion of actual bodily harm.

Both are on police bail pending further inquiries.

South Tyneside Primary Care Trust declined to comment.

Phil Whitaker, regional director of Southern Cross Healthcare, said: “Mrs Barclay’s appointment in no way affects the police investigation or her performance as area manager.

“Both Southern Cross Healthcare’s and Mrs Barclay’s top priority continues to be the welfare of our residents.