Panorama and Ash Court – Towards Improvements

I watched Panorama last night. The programme, as explained yesterday, focused on the abuse by care workers at Ash Court of an older woman with dementia whose daughter filmed her secretly on a hidden camera in the home.

The footage of the abuse was sickening and involved both physical and psychological (neglectful) abuse by those employed to care for her. Most indicative was the lack of regard that the care workers had for Mrs Jane Worroll as a human being as we saw the treatment dehumanising her.

It was clearly uncomfortable viewing and links are being made with Winterbourne View but there are vast differences and this time, although I almost surprise myself, I think it’s important to defend the role of the Care Quality Commission in this case.

With the Winterbourne View Panorama expose there were whistle blowers and the regulator should have taken action as a result. With the situation at Ash Court, there was a hidden camera and while some of the cultures could have been known to exist within the home itself, it’s clear that the regulator did not have a way of knowing what was happening before it happened.

As they say in the statement that they make on the programme that what they (the CQC)

cannot do is to identify and stamp out deliberately concealed abuse. By its very nature, concealed abuse takes place away from the eyes of managers and inspectors and can even take place, as in this case, in a well run care home. Abuse of vulnerable people is a criminal matter, and is rightly handled by the police and the courts.

That’s the big difference between Ash Court and Winterbourne View. The disappointment in Panorama is that it tried to merge the agendas of both and while there is a common narrative to both programmes about abuse of those who have power of those who do not, the solutions and causes are different.

I mentioned on Twitter during the programme about the discrepancies of procedures and powers for adult safeguarding and safeguarding of children.

Personally I see ‘safeguarding’ and ‘abuse’ as the use of power by someone against another person who has no power. That might be as a result of physical ability, mental capacity or understanding or just some of the institutional structures in place. Whether the person who is abused is 6, 65 or 85 shouldn’t have any sway within the processes. What I’d like to see is a unified process that deals with the effects of abuse and the power differentials – rather than provide so many more hoops to jump through and weaker processes when the person to whom the abuse happens is over 18.

The effects may be different according to the stage in the life cycle but they may not be. The criminal act is around the abuse of power and the abuse within the relationship that takes place along with the eventual effect.

I’m sure those with more knowledge than me will come back to attack my somewhat simplistic judgements and thoughts on this but it’s frustrating working within an adult safeguarding process that lacks so many of the potential teeth when we see some of the abuses that take place and see so few taken to court due to unreliable witnesses or lack of scope for action.

Another disappointment of Panorama (although unsurprising as they wanted to squeeze out all the ‘abuse’ footage for shock value and only had 30 minutes) was the lack of attention to some of the systemic problems that have led to warehousing of older adults in institutions when they need residential care. The pay of the staff was mentioned but pay is not the only consideration.

I worked quite happily at a very low wage as a care worker myself for a number of years but what matters as much as pay (although pay helps) is the value placed on the members of staff. Staff who are not respected and who are treated as expendable and with little respect are more likely to pass that feeling of powerlessness on to others. It isn’t an inevitable link – you get good staff in bad homes and bad staff in good homes – but it’s more likely that if staff feel linked to and attached to those whom they care for and those for whom they work – they are more likely not only to pass on that feeling of respect but to feel vested in the organisation for whom they work.

Too often care work is seen as ‘easy’ and care workers are seen as ‘replaceable’. Organisations like Forest Care (and many others I know) bring staff over from the Philippines en masse to carry out these roles or put staff on zero hour contracts and push out unionisation. Organisations have to regard staff better – and pay is one of those aspects but not the only one – in order to create cultures of care and compassion. The other aspects are good and robust supervision, including peer supervision and giving staff responsibilities and a stake or voice into the organisation they are working for. Whistleblowing has to be easier and better regarded. Complaints improve care and processes and they should not be feared.

Local authorities and the government needs to be willing to pay more for care and for monitoring inspections which don’t need to simply come from the Care Quality Commission. If LAs push prices down to rock bottom quality will suffer. Some people do need 24 hour residential or nursing care and it shouldn’t be accepted as being ‘sub-standard’ as default. It doesn’t have to be.

Panorama didn’t shock me, unfortunately. It saddened me. I hope it doesn’t become just another blip in the process of change. I want the processes and structures to be pushed to positive change. Blaming the CQC won’t do that – changing the expectations and systems might.

As for hidden cameras in residential care homes and in people’s own homes – I see it increasing and have a sense of discomfort about some of the rights to privacy that are impeded however finding and challenging abuse is important. Would Mrs Worroll’s abuse have been discovered without them? Unlikely unless one of the care staff attending her raised concerns with their own manager. I may be tempted to use hidden cameras myself if I had a family member in a similar position but that’s the key – it’s only those people who have family members who will have recourse to such action – what we need to do is find the reasons these abuses happen institutionally and act on them.

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Of Hidden Cameras, Care and Panorama

Tonight’s  Panorama is focusing on care of the elderly or rather, lack of care. Maria Worroll was placed by her mother in a care home in Camden which had an ‘excellent’ rating by the CQC (Care Quality Commission).

Jane Worroll, Maria’s daughter, noticing something amiss and perhaps having concerns, set up a hidden camera in her mother’s room to observe how her mother’s treatment. Mistreatment and abuse were filmed and it led to a conviction by a care worker, Jonathan Aquino, under the provisions of the Mental Capacity Act (2005) and a jail term of 18 months.

There are a few key points to take into this and to note. Prior to June 2011 (when the filming took place), the previous assessment and inspection by the CQC was in 2009. It was an unannounced inspection and as described above, the outcome found the home was excellent.

There were a couple of ‘compliance’ visits after the incidents films came to light but the important thing to note is that an excellent care home can provide appalling care if there is one abusive care worker. Similarly a care home which may have a poor inspection report can provide excellent care if there are caring and good quality care staff. Historical reports of care by regulators actually tell us little about the quality of the care today, at this moment, as staff in these care homes tend to be transient and low paid.

There is an issue about management culture of course. I have seen a switch in manager making both a very positive and very negative effect on residents in these homes. While more regular ‘spot’ inspections – perhaps by lay visitors as well as official regulatory bodies – may be one answer, it may not root out the individually abusive members of staff. A much better way to do that is to firm up whistleblowing procedures and supervision procedures for care workers – perhaps more peer discussion and supervision as well as managerial supervision.

As for the effects I see, I am no longer surprised by the increase in surveillance by family members which is a definite increased trend that I’m seeing. While there may be issues of privacy, the concerns of families are very real.

Until our care systems can provide better qualities of regulating and monitoring care – and not only from the CQC but from commissioners – whether they be local authorities or privately funded – there will always be these questions that linger at the back of the mind.

I expect I’ll be watching tonight, if I am able. I think I know what I’ll see but it is important that these incidents come to light so that changes in the systems can be made. This is one incident but it is very far from isolated. Our society needs to deliver the type of care and the methods of monitoring of care and the financial provisions for care that are not age-dependent. Until we do so, I can only infer that the systems of social care in this country are inherently ageist.

Bye Bye Bower

Yesterday Cynthia Bower resigned at the Chief Executive of the Care Quality Commission. I remain amazed that she was ever seen as competent to run it in the first place but it’s easy to be wise in hindsight. Her departure is no surprise as the organisation has consistently been shown to be ineffective and unable to effectively or safely keep within its remit as the regulator of health and adult social care services in England.

As the Guardian states, at the time of Bower’s appointment by the Labour Government

Andrew Lansley, the then shadow health secretary, said at the time: “We have to ask whether it is right that the person in charge of the West Midlands strategic health authority at the time, Cynthia Bower, is now to be put in charge of the national regulator which heads up these investigations and which will be responsible for ensuring that this never happens again in Mid Staffordshire or elsewhere.”

Lucy at The Small Places refers to some of the closing statements at the Mid Staffordshire Inquiry which shine a light on the actions in the CQC at the time. She quotes Dame Barbara Young’s evidence – who had resigned as CEO of the CQC and was asked why – saying

I really believed strongly that we could only do a good job if we were on the ground locally inspecting with rigour and understanding what was happening locally in health core systems and in hospitals that were delivering services. And I knew that we were finding it quite difficult to ensure that that was the case with the resource we had. And I could see further restrictions in resources on the horizon, because by then it was clear that the service was going to share in cuts. And I could also see that that was going to happen at a time when the quality of care was going to be even more at risk than usual as a result of health core cuts in services.

So you’d be a regulator in a very difficult position, with government, accountable to government, but responsible really to the public, with less resource to regulate effectively, and services being more at risk And it just felt to me that that was not a job that my skills were best suited for.

Lucy, in her excellent post, points out, quite rightly that it was the Labour Government that was responsible for establishing the CQC in its current form. This goes beyond the party political. It is about creating a system which has allowed a more rigorous inspection regime to lapse faced with cost and faced with the potential to cause a political ‘stink’ when hospitals in particular might be found to be ‘failing’.

And where now for the CQC? Bower leaving was necessary but it looks as if the problems that run through the organisation are far more endemic than a change at the top. There needs to be trust restored in an organisation which is supposed to regulate services that we all depend on wholly.

My experience is more in the social care side than health and I see the dilution of regulation has happened over the years with poorer services, fewer inspections and inspectors with more experience in auditing paper records than inspecting care homes thoroughly ‘on the ground’.

Meanwhile, Paul Burstow calls for Dignity Codes for older people – who will be responsible for ensuring these ‘codes’ that apparently he wants care workers to sign up to are upheld? and his now cancelled so-called ‘excellence’ schemes which was unravelled and ratings sites – they all seem to be attempts to cover up the need for strong regulation and inspection because that would cost more money.

So Bower’s leaving is just an admission of failure and acceptance that she should never have been in that post to start with. She has barely displaying competence in ‘leadership’ but leadership is not just about one person and while the systems remain in place, we wait to be see if there will be any really useful changes in a regulatory body which has had such a difficult birthing experience.

CareAdvisor

Yesterday, it was announced that the government was going to set up a website, the details of which would be unveiled  in the Spring White Paper on Adult Social Care which could bring a kind of ‘Trip Advisor’ model of rating and commenting to providers of care homes and nursing homes.

Sounds good so far. I certainly welcome more open and accessible information for those who are choosing care homes but there are some real and obvious differences that need to be highlighted between the choices that are available to those who are picking hotels in New York City and those who are choosing care homes for Granny in Wallsend.

On a positive note, Burstow claims that these plans came from user-led discussion groups which shows that he is listening but there are some important points that have to be taken into consideration, lest this is seen as a way of trying to provide regulation on-the-cheap because the actual regulatory body – the CQC – is unable to carry out its function.
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National Audit Office CQC Report

In a timely moment (although possibly not for the CQC), the National Audit Office today publish a report into the workings of the Care Quality Commission (CQC). Yesterday the Public Inquiry in Mid Staffordshire wound up and before looking at the NAO (National Audit Office) report, it’s worth pulling a few quotes from the summing up in the inquiry as they make pertinent points.

The issue of what counts as an ‘inspection’ of a service

Right, so an inspection doesn’t mean what members of the public might think of as an inspection.  It may simply mean looking at the systems and the paperwork; is that right?
”Answer:  It may.”

This should be borne in mind when the CQC parade their ‘inspection’ figures around. An ‘inspection’ can be a form that is sent out to the provider for them to complete themselves.
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CQC – the insiders’ views

The Inquiry into the failings in the Mid-Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust has been going on for a while now but yesterday there was some hefty evidence from two CQC (Care Quality Commission) ‘insiders’ which blasted open the so-called regulator and lifted the lid on the poor practice that some of us have suspected for a while.

I would urge anyone in health and social care who serves are regulated by this body, take a look at some of the evidence presented yesterday. I did and I hate to say that I wasn’t surprised but let’s just say it confirmed some of my suspicions.

The two witnesses who provided the evidence were Amanda Pollard – an inspector with the CQC and Kay Sheldon – a non-executive director at the CQC.

I want to look at some of the statements that they made in the hope that these issues are picked up on by a wider audience.  Both Amanda Pollard and Kay Sheldon are ‘whistleblowers’ in the finest tradition and should be heartily applauded for the stance they have taken. Continue reading

Is the CQC fit for purpose?

There was an interesting article in the Guardian yesterday about the Care Quality Commission which was set up as a new regulatory body for health and social care in 2009.

The CQC is headed by Cynthia Bower at a salary of £195,000 pa who was previously the Chief Executive of the West Midlands Strategic Health Authority – responsible for Stafford Hospital at the time it was found to have been providing substandard care.

How she was able to take post at the CQC is quite staggering to me, as an outsider but there she is, responsible for the regulation of health and adult social care services. You’d think it was the opening of a black comedy. Maybe it is.

There are some chilling facts that the Guardian have uncovered and they deserve repeating – over and over again – because the CQC is responsible for the regulation – not only of hospitals but of every care home and domiciliary care agency in England.
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