The man who cried ‘Fire!’

Posted on July 3rd, by geoff in Caring Times, CT blog. 4 comments

By guest blogger JEF SMITH

On 27 June, David Behan, the chief executive of the Care Quality Commission wrote to all providers of care homes in England on the issue of fire safety. He was motivated of course by the Grenfell Tower disaster which has occurred a fortnight earlier. Makes sense?

No, actually it doesn’t make sense. It is difficult to believe that anyone who ever looks at television, listens to the radio, reads a newspaper, talks to friends, or relates to any social media is not aware of and has not been deeply moved by the horror of the North Kensington fire. And is it possible that anyone who lives in, has relatives who live in, or has responsibility for a sizeable building has not asked themselves whether those premises might be vulnerable to a fate similar to that which overtook Grenfell Tower?

Does it really need the national regulator of care quality to make the simple, indeed almost insulting, point that a fire like this should prompt all of us to think again about fire safety? As recently as April, fires occurred in two homes – Newgrange in Cheshunt and Stanton House in Tamworth – which resulted respective in two deaths and the hospitalisation of seven residents. If there are lessons to be learned from case studies, these are much more likely to be relevant than an inferno in a tower block.

It gets worse. The letter advises homes to ‘pay special attention to those at higher risk’ and then gives the examples of ‘mobility impairment or learning disability’. What on earth is such advice supposed to prompt? ‘Ah, yes, if we had a fire, we had better think about the people who can’t walk very quickly or don’t easily understand what’s going on. How helpful of Sir David to make the point’?

Inspections, the letter goes on to state, have sometimes ‘identified fire safety issues’. On the other hand, ‘some providers maintain their premises and equipment safely’. Well, what a surprise; planning for residents’ safety, one of the five key qualities CQC inspects, is rather variable! Sir David’s letter in fact looks less like a responsible reminder than something between a statement of the bleeding obvious and an opportunistic – and frankly rather tasteless – attempt to jump on a bandwagon. Surely CQC has better things to do with its time.

  • The CT Blog is written in a personal capacity – comments and opinions expressed are not necessarily endorsed or supported by Caring Times.

4 responses to “The man who cried ‘Fire!’”

  1. Bob Ferguson says:

    While I agree that the letter looks suspiciously like a back-covering exercise, to be fair to the man, when allegations of blame are being scattered like confetti, can you imagine the opprobrium that would have been heaped on him, had he remained silent?

  2. Roger Wharton says:

    I think Sir David is between the rock and the hard place in this context. Damned if he says something, albeit rather obvious, to the sector and damned if he doesn’t and we see a another fire in a care home shortly after.

  3. geoff says:

    I think Jef makes a very good point about actual care home fires which resulted in fatalities earlier this year, and yet didn’t raise a murmur from the regulator.

  4. John Burton says:

    CQC is an organisation founded and run for the purpose of risk aversion and locating blame at the lowest possible level, while masquerading as the public’s watchdog on care. It’s why we have a national regulator: to reduce risk to national government. (You don’t get knighthoods for nothing.) And this is repeated all the way down through the hypocritical hierarchy of bureaucratic righteousness into the care homes. Yes, it’s the same as Grenfell Tower in that the people who suffer are the powerless. The same sort of risk avoiding oversight was in place for Grenfell Tower but the warning that David Behan should take is that in this case it looks as if the blame may be laid at the door of a failed system and no amount of finger-wagging directives will save those who failed to do their real job with integrity. The public mood is changing.

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