‘Abuse scandals dominate media coverage but high-quality care homes exist’

Opinion: Tony Charlton, whose wife spent years in a care home, says media focus on neglect and abuse overshadows the good work many do

Care assistant and resident
Picture credit: Image Broker/Rex Features (posed by models)

by Tony Charlton

Dementia Awareness Week offers a reminder of tough decisions many of us may have to make about seeking appropriate care for family and friends – and, possibly, ourselves – if a dementia diagnosis is made.

But all too often, regrettably, newspapers and television are packed with revelations of care homes where residents’ dignity and well-being are disregarded.

We read, for instance, of ineffectual managers, and of vindictive, uncaring and inadequately trained staff. A recent BBC Panorama investigation highlighted yet another instance of neglect and abuse. Furthermore, we do not need long memories to recall worldwide reports of the abominations that were practiced in the Winterbourne View residential home near Bristol.

Despite efforts made by the Care Quality Commission and whistleblowers, these worrying reports persist. Quite understandably, they cause much public unease – and may be devastating for those seeking care homes for themselves or others. Clearly, great endeavour is still needed to rid care homes of inept and uncaring staff.

Yet there’s good news, too, which is far more seldom heard. Quality homes do exist, and some truly excel.

I was fortunate when I found a home in which I was confident my wife’s needs would be well provided for. Her years in Deerhurst Nursing Home, on the outskirts of Bristol, gave me ample time to view, first-hand, the dedication, skills and steadfastness of the staff there. The home is at the forefront of challenging disturbing preconceptions about residential care, such as:

Residents spend their days sedentary in chairs: This home has a packed diary of social events each week. These include minibus outings, art classes, karaoke-style singing for memory, visiting entertainers, craft, bingo, cooking, gardening, music for health, physio-fitness (e.g. using trampoline, exercise bike, stepping machine), keep-fit (exercises in chairs), dancing and film evenings. The sessions typically involve between eight and 40 people, supplementing staff and visiting experts (such as physiotherapists) are some of the home’s 24 volunteers – the eldest of whom is 97.

Staff are untrained, with high turnover: Deerhurst has 66 residents, nearly 100 staff, and an annual training spend of £55,000. This covers health and safety, safeguarding, first aid, human rights, food hygiene and nutrition, equality and diversity, team building, positive risk assessment, manual handling, fire training and person-centred care. Clinical staff receive advanced medical training. Moreover, staff seldom leave Deerhurst. Continuity of this kind implies satisfaction, and supports teamwork. Agency staff haven’t been used for five years, because regulars (who know the residents best) cover absences.

Homes are gloomy and depressing: Step into any care home and you will quickly sense its ethos – it’s not only visible, but felt. I found welcoming staff, who smile. Laughter among – and between – them and residents is commonplace. Corridors, lounges, bedrooms and quiet areas are bursting with memorabilia, and awash with colour, cosiness and warmth.

With hindsight, the above ‘myths’ might have suggested issues that helped me select the ‘right’ home for my wife. (Fortuitously, friends and colleagues steered me towards Deerhurst.) Today, my searches would have been aided by asking questions such as:

  • What social activities are available each week to residents?
  • How many agency staff are usually called upon each week?
  • How much money is spent annually on staff training?
  • How many volunteers help in the home?
  • How many staff have left in the last year?

These questions are not intrusive. Successful care homes have nothing to hide. They will have this kind of information to hand, and should willingly share it.

Most of us would agree it is unjust and unfair – offensive, even – to managers whose vision and energy have shaped quality care homes, that all too often the media tars all homes with the same tainted brush.

Many good – indeed excellent – care homes exist. Let us celebrate their successes for a change.

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3 Responses to ‘Abuse scandals dominate media coverage but high-quality care homes exist’

  1. Edna May 22, 2014 at 11:00 am #

    I am very pleased that the author found such a great residential establishment for his wife- but he is very ‘confident’ that this is the more the case and that Panorama / the media are giving a distorted view.

    I have vastly greater experience over years of seeing local ‘care’ establishments ‘see saw’ from ‘poor experience’ reported by relatives / yet given CQC high ratings.

    Extremely few, if any at all in the urban area, are anything like the one he describes in Bristol.

    Many are part of a business where many homes are owned by a single owner / company with varying and changing staff, quality of care / experienced or skilled staff to work with the most vulnerable.

    I have spot visited nursing homes rated 3 star by CQC which made me want to vomit due to the extreme stench of state urine permeating. I have been refused spot visits (when looking at care provision locally for relative) by those not wanting their poor standards to be on view, they were held up with problems later noted by CQC.

    A few have been open to visitors but over the years these changed to extendeed developments for making as much money as possible, with some actually neglecting the most needy vulnerable needing 24/7 care.

    The only activity I saw in a place here relative spent a few weeks was a not too good tempered or well experienced care worker ‘doing a sing song session’ in a living room where large numbers of residents were seated- the worker was doing the singing, I did not see much joining in.

    Herding is what is more common and profits are the bottom line for most. I have talked to care workers and observed them and the picture is not rosy- even when they work hard and try, they too are exploited in many cases.

    What you see is not always what you get and with management and staff changes things can become worrying for the care of the most vulnerable people quite quickly.

    It is right that older people are made aware of the situation as Dignitas may indeed be the realistic choice for many rather than institutional care often forced upon them by controlling social services system unable to safeguard them in the race to the bottom for the cheapest rates for care,.

    • Tony May 22, 2014 at 1:26 pm #

      I have sympathy with much of the above comment. However, the main thrust of my piece was to make the point that the media’s preoccupation with “bad” care was overshadowing the quality care that is available in some other homes.

    • GERALD May 28, 2014 at 1:38 pm #

      When it comes to the Media (BBC panorama etc) being selective one only has to look at the difference between their coverage lately of troubles in a Care Home and compare it with their coverage of Midstaffs Hospital why has there been no one held to account at Midstaffs why has there been no covert filming in all the years that the public were being ignored ,why has all the cover ups, pay offs etc not been reported to the police, why are we ignoring all these inherent problems in the NHS and not looking at the difference in value for money , the Private Sector are always condemned because they make a profit it should also be acknowledge for being considerably better value for money. perhaps some one should check what a Hospital Trust gets paid for a night for basic care a then check what the NHS pays a Nursing Home, the difference is shocking (up to 400percent more) lets stop playing politics and start getting value for money