Locked, Barred and Ludicrous

A fatal fire in a care home in Scotland has prompted local fire
departments to inspect all of the nation’s care homes for older and
vulnerable adults. This would be a positive step, if only the fire
departments were not making recommendations that go against the
principles of care in the community and hinder clients’

In my sector many clients have spent 20 years or more in
psychiatric hospitals before coming into residential care. They
come to us with few life skills, little ambition and even less
trust. Building a relationship that helps them to regain control of
their lives is often a slow and complex task. But, after a lot of
hard work, we now have residents who treat the care home as their
own and carry out everyday chores such as cleaning, cooking and

But, as a result of the recent fire inspections, it looks like
things will have to change. We have been told that our kitchen,
laundry and storeroom doors must be kept locked when there are no
staff members working in the area so as to reduce the risk of
someone deliberately starting a fire. Yet these rooms have all
historically been used independently by our residents and any
potentially problematic issues have been identified, discussed and
detailed in their individual risk assessments. To date this system
has worked successfully.

We have also been advised to remove all combustible materials
stored in communal cupboards and drawers, or to fit locks. This
advice extends to a cabinet in the lounge containing books, board
games, writing paper, television guides and magazines – all things
you would expect to have easy access to in your own home.

Some of my clients are preparing to move into their own homes and
we need to be able to ensure they have learned the necessary skills
for independent living. How we do this while denying them access to
parts of their current home will be one of our biggest challenges

The need for fire prevention is essential but the needs of our
clients should not be overlooked in the process. If the fire
departments were to carry out its visits with the Care Commission
perhaps a more suitable solution could be achieved.

Amanda Hepburn is the manager of a residential care home
for adults with mental health problems.

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