Urgent closures – minimising the collateral damage

Posted on August 17th, by geoff in CT blog. 3 comments

By Caring Times editor Geoff Hodgson

I know that some of you might find it tedious that I keep banging on about the Care Quality Commission, but the latest urgent closure of the Old Village School Hall nursing home in Bedfordshire leads me to question the regulator’s modus operandi yet again.

Some 50 residents were moved, many after 6.30pm and some after 10pm. Some relatives described the process as having caused huge distress to old, vulnerable people, and it’s hard to see how this collateral damage to residents’ welfare can in any way be justified.

The charity Action on Elder Abuse (AEA) has called for a change in the law to protect the residents and has written to care minister Alistair Burt, calling for a change in the legal status of care homes that are subject to urgent cancellation, enabling them to be temporarily or permanently taken over by new management – whether a local authority, a CCG, or another commissioned provider.

The charity says the issue is not primarily about the actions of the regulator, or other agencies that have been involved in these closures, but about the failure of the legislation to effectively differentiate between the nature of social care businesses from that of other commercial enterprises.

I disagree. It only needs the regulator to put residents’ welfare ahead of its own craving for publicity which paints it as being tough, intrepid and ready to spring into dramatic action, and the present legal framework would be perfectly adequate. But AEA says the regulator is not at fault here. And yet it wants the law to be changed to prevent the blameless CQC going over the top when it comes to emergency closures – I’m still thinking about that.

Whatever the facts may be, whatever remedies other than emergency closure might have been considered, it is now curtains for the Old Village School, ever since CQC delivered its ‘justice by press release’. If I had had a relative in that facility, and if I had power of attorney, I would have expected to be consulted prior to the closure decision being made, but I suspect the relatives were presented with a fait accompli.

We don’t know the facts yet, but one cannot help but wonder if the option of parachuting-in a specialist care home management company until the best way forward could be determined was even considered. I’m waiting to see if the Relatives and Residents Association has anything to say.

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

3 responses to “Urgent closures – minimising the collateral damage”

  1. Tony Stein says:

    I couldn’t agree more. Had an operator treated the residents in this way they would have been, quite rightly, hung out to dry. It amazes me how often people need reminding that care homes are very unique businesses. These are people’s homes not simply trading locations. Forcing people to leave their homes should be the very last resort and only if there is absolutely no other choice.
    It would help if the legislation could be changed to allow properly registered and vetted operators to hold a “travelling registration” allowing them to take over from failing operators to help improve safety and quality in extreme situations. It is an Idea I floated at CQC some time ago but it was dismissed out of hand..

  2. Paul Watts says:

    I think the idea (above) of a travelling registration is an excellent one – not sure how it would translate to the practical realities of taking over the running of an entire facility, but worth exploration nonetheless.

    As a Social Worker I have been present during an Adult Protection (AP) inspection and have seen some of the problems encountered. In one case, a new Registered Manager (RM) had been due to start on the Monday and took the liberty of visiting the Friday beforehand, to get a ‘feel’ for the place. As a result of what she found, 28 AP concerns were found that afternoon, including the suspected sexual abuse of one of the residents.

    In a hurriedly arranged meeting with the RM and her area managers, they were at a loss as to how they might make the clients safe over the weekend. I have never witnessed three ‘professionals’ throw their hands up in the air and admit defeat, but there they were.

    The home remained open over the weekend. All staff (including the member of staff suspected of sexual abuse) were allowed to work during this time and events were picked up again the following week. The home is still trading (albeit with a different manager).

    If my mum was a resident, I would want CQC to have taken action immediately. That night. Moving residents out would have been a poor outcome but why not, as Mr Stein suggests, parachute in an interim team and remove the source of the problem i.e. existing staff/management.

  3. Judy Downey says:

    Well before the Southern Cross collapse, we were writing to Ministers and the Health Select Committee and CQC about the devastating impact of deteriorating homes and home closures on residents and families. Yet despite all that has been written, recommended and legislated, it is clear that the CQC is no more capable of vetting the financial viability of providers than its predecessor bodies.

    We proposed then – and see no reason to change our minds – that there needed to be a change in the status of care homes. It makes no sense that a care home has the same status in law as a corner shop. Homes close regularly: the owners can close it, develop the site or go out of business at any time, with no obligation to residents other than to give them a month’s notice. And, as recent closures have once again shown, not just the one quoted in the blog, a month would be a luxury. This is wholly unacceptable and not just another business failure when the “commodity” is the care of fragile human beings. With urgent closures and bankruptcies or other unforeseen circumstances, like the death of the owner or change of use, the residents become at great risk.

    We said in our evidence to the Health Select Committee in 2011: “Emergency legislation needs to make it possible for local authorities to take homes over to ensure stability and security for residents, pending further decisions. This can mean continuity for them and the staff.”

    Registration is a privilege which allows care homes to provide a service to vulnerable members of the public. It is not only a recognition of their fitness but a position of special responsibility as the Regulations make clear. So, yes, there does need to be an urgent change in the status of the care home in the best interests of residents, regardless of the status of the home.

    Judy Downey

    Chair, The Relatives & Residents Association

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