Alton Centre, Active Care and Southern Cross – an update


A couple of weeks ago I wrote about Alton Centre, a home in Northamptonshire run by Active Care – a subsidiary of Southern Cross Healthcare who were reported to be suffering from financial difficulties earlier in the year.

Today the appeal against the loss of the registration is being appealed and Community Care reported yesterday on some of the details regarding the case.

I thought at the time that an order for an immediate suspension of registration is certainly drastic action to take and now the details emerge, unsurprisingly, some light is cast on the matter.

To quote Community Care

The manager of a privately-run care home allegedly failed to ensure a seriously ill resident received medical care the night before he died, a tribunal was told yesterday.

Katrina Derbyshire, an inspector, told the Care Standards Tribunal that she had visited the resident, known as MB, at the Alton Centre home in Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, for an emergency check on 6 August.

On 7 August, MB became the second resident to die within two months at the home run by Active Care Partnership, part of the Southern Cross Healthcare Group.

Derbyshire said MB’s care notes for 6 August showed there was an appointment for a doctor’s visit the following day, but information from the surgery conflicted with this. “I don’t know who is telling the truth,” she told the tribunal.

MB died from a wound infection, an ulcer and pneumonia, but no assessment of his wound had been made for three weeks leading up to his death, the tribunal was told.

The tribunal was also told that another resident, GC, was sent to hospital three times due to alleged poor management of her diabetes and a sore.

Police inquiries into the case of MB, and another resident who died in July after allegedly choking, known as RL, are continuing.

There isn’t really a great deal to add at this point. It certainly casts a new light on my previous post on the matter.

The Times also picks up on the story, saying

A damning post-mortem examination report last week showed that the man (MB) died not only from the chest infection, but from an infected bedsore that was slowly poisoning his body. The cause of death was “sepsis and pneumonia and a sacral ulcer”, the tribunal heard. That has reinforced the view of inspectors that wounds and infections were being neglected by staff.

Also published, is Active Care’s response

Mr Engelman (counsel for Active Care) accused Ms Morrison (Regulation manager for CSCI)  and the CSCI of a “knee-jerk reaction” in ordering the closure of the home in response to concerns that she had heard about a number of Southern Cross homes, of which the Alton Centre was one.

A number of Southern Cross homes then. I know from personal experience of having worked both in and around care homes since I was 20 (one or two years ago (!)) that for a home to be closed down suddenly, the concerns have to be huge. It is not a decision that is taken in a split moment – it can’t be. Potential disruption within a care home can have massive implications on the quality of life of the residents there.

I have seen a lot in my time and heard of even more situations from colleagues. But really, just reading this has saddened me  immensely.

I know how hard it is to work in the field of care – and I mean hands-on care – because I did for many years. I want so badly to be writing about the good work that is done (and it is being done) in the sector (actually if you want examples of good quality caring care that goes on daily, you can do far worse than visiting Dom Care Dragon’s blog).  But bad things happen and they need as much of an audience that will listen.

I know however much I rant and rave about moving profit-making organisations into the field of care and how it has lowered the quality of the care provided will change nothing. All has gone too far to change.

Don’t get me wrong, there is some wonderful work done within private services and agencies too. But there are also corners being cut by others.

Back to Southern Cross and the verdict which will be delivered later today.

It is not clear what difference the financial difficulties of the parent company might have had in this situation – maybe not. Conjecture isn’t fair but perhaps some corners cut on training or staffing levels.. that isn’t necessarily unfair because it was highlighted as an ongoing concern.

If people who provide the most important and intimate care to some of the most vulnerable citizens of the country are paid at and around minimum wage levels – it becomes harder to retain a high quality of employee at that level. People need living wages. Indeed, the Guardian reported earlier in the week that Social Care staff are at the bottom of the pay pile.

The article explains that

the workforce as a whole (is) underpaid and undervalued – and voluntary sector staff at the bottom of the pile.

In my experience, I’d put the staff employed by private profit-making companies, like Southern Cross Healthcare even below voluntary sector staff when it comes to the paying of care assistants.

This story of Active Care and Southern Cross Healthcare is sad in so many ways. The deaths due to factors possibly resulting from neglect – they should not happen – not when you consider the fees charged for this level of ‘care’. Actually, forget about fees or money – it just shouldn’t happen in any situation.

Corners can’t be cut in hands-on care. Manpower is always needed. Quality, well-trained and effective manpower that is. Private companies need to factor that in when they consider making a profit out of the care industry.

3 thoughts on “Alton Centre, Active Care and Southern Cross – an update

  1. Thank you for the mention. I can say with surety that recruitment and retention is the biggest issue that faces the private care sector and that making a profit is far from easy for those of us that put a moral value as well as a fiscal one on what we do. You and I can both, I am sure, name homes and agencies in our areas that we wouldn’t have within a country mile of our loved ones. We could also name a handful that do it right, make mistakes maybe, because we are all only as good as the people who are “out there” in our name, but we break our backs to do it well and to learn when we do go wrong. My personal opinion is that it is distance that creates the problem. These huge conglomerates are so far removed from the field of the care they provide – ownership in a very real sense, can only be real when the owner is there and not in another city, or even another country. We have just over a hundred staff, I took the decision that that is big enough – I want to see the people for whom I am responsible and I don’t want the weight of that responsibility on the shoulders of staff who are just not paid to take it. It’s not a job, it’s a sacred trust. Great post – standards are a huge issue

  2. Thanks Caroline, I agree that there are private care agencies (and residential/nursing homes) that do fantastic jobs. Unsurprisingly probably, I agree with you. Just because someone works for a private or voluntary sector employer doesn’t mean that the standards need to change – and I completely agree about distance. The problem I see (and I am not being terribly analytical here) with Southern Cross is that it is a big company in financial difficulty and I imagine cuts will be made. My personal experience is with a large care provider in my own borough that owns all the residential homes we have access to. While some of the managers and staff are wonderful, they themselves are put under unrealistic pressures from ‘higher up’.
    One time, I went to visit someone in a residential home and the manager broke down in tears as she was talking to me because she was being put under massive pressures from an external ‘area manager’ who was making impossible demands. And she was a good and caring manager.
    I think the pay of care staff in the private sector though are scandalously low and that is a part to do with the councils being pushed towards tendering for almost impossible to deliver contracts. I worry.

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