Low pay and poor training hold back care-home regimes

In the wake of Panorama’s exposure of abuse of mentally ill patients in a care home, is it now time for a beefed up inspection regime across the UK? Darren Devine hears from the father of one autistic boy in care who wants a wide-ranging review of the system.

IN 2003 Rev Dr John Gillibrand and wife Gillian made the heartbreaking decision to put their then 10-year-old son Adam into full-time residential care.

Faced with a daily round of changing nappies and dealing with their son’s destructive and challenging behaviours the exhausted couple took the decision after their pleas for help fell on deaf ears.

But last week Dr Gillibrand sat down to watch Panorama and saw his worst fears about the care system realised as the programme exposed abuse at Bristol home Winterbourne View.

The programme showed patients being being punched, slapped and taunted by care workers at the home run by Castlebeck Care.

Dr Gillibrand, whose son is in an independent special school in England but is heading towards adult residential care, believes the Castlebeck scandal demonstrates the need for root-and-branch reform of the care system. In particular a more robust system of unannounced visits by inspectors is needed to ensure the kind of culture of abuse discovered at Winterbourne View is not allowed to flourish elsewhere, he said.

Carmarthenshire cleric Dr Gillibrand, 50, said: “I feel regulation needs to be looked at again because we can’t be absolutely sure that this is not going on in other places.”

The cleric, vicar of Llangeler and Penboyr, said low-pay and poor training across the care system militates against raising standards.

Dr Gillibrand added: “There are questions as to whether some of the profits and directors’ remuneration shouldn’t have been more properly directed into staff training and remuneration.

“I’ve become very aware over the years with my son of the very low wages for those in frontline care.

“I wouldn’t in any sense want to justify the behaviour shown in the Panorama programme, but on the other hand reports on Winterbourne had raised the issue of staff training and that they weren’t updated on proper methods of restraint.”

This leaves a profit-driven industry populated by a de-skilled and low-waged workforce.

In the wake of the programme England’s social care regulator the Care Quality Commission (CQC) issued an “unreserved apology” after admitting it failed to respond to warnings of abuse.

But chairman of the CQC Dame Jo Williams insisted she would not resign, blaming “an unforgivable error of judgement” by staff for the failure to act.

Three men – aged 42, 30 and 25 – and a woman aged 24 have been released on bail by Avon and Somerset Constabulary.

Elsewhere Castlebeck-run Monroe House, in Ardler, Scotland, faced complaints that were upheld following investigation by a regulator.

Dr Gillibrand said the CQC’s failings also result from the fact that it does not have enough inspectors and homes receive warnings of checks.

“The CQC is a new regulator that’s had major, major staff cuts and their inspectors are being asked to do more and more inspections so in those circumstances can’t get to know the places they’re reviewing. It does come down to a proper inspection regime and the way the CQC is staffed and financed.”

A spokesperson for the CQC said they had vacancies for inspectors, but were currently subject to a recruitment freeze.

It has 800 full and part-time inspectors working in England, with 133 full-time posts vacant.

The spokesperson insisted the organisation does carry out unannounced inspections, but said in some cases homes may get letters in advance of a visit.

“In some cases there might be some pre-planning and they may have had a letter asking for information, but that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s going to be a visit or [indicate] when there’s going to be a visit.”

Castlebeck were asked to comment but did not reply to our requests.

In Wales the Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales (CSSIW) performs the role of the CQC.

A Welsh Government spokeswoman said: “In Wales, unannounced spot-checks on residential care providers are already an established part of the inspection regime.

“Local authorities have the legal responsibility to assess local social care needs and provide, or commission, services appropriately and effectively within available resources.

“The Welsh Government is committed to improving the lives of people with autism, their families and carers.”