Southern Cross and Hillingdon

Southern Cross is one of the largest, if not the largest provider of private residential and nursing care in the UK. They had one or two financial hiccoughs earlier in the year. There have been a few stumbles along the way,  but they have now appointed a new Chief Executive, Jamie Buchan, a ‘turnaround specialist’ .

In a statement, Southern Cross said that a “key remit” for Buchan and his team will be to “refocus attention on excellence of service delivery and to develop a clear strategy to rebuild shareholder value”.

Well, it looks like he has the right kind of language to fit right into the care sector.

That’s comforting.

Yesterday, however, the MP for Hayes and Harlington raised the issue of the quality of care at Southern Cross homes in Hillingdon, in the House of Commons. In fact, his Early Day Motion reads as follows

That this House notes with extreme concern the reports of the poor standards of care in the residential homes for the elderly owned by Southern Cross in the London Borough of Hillingdon largely resulting from insufficient numbers of staff, working long hours without adequate support, management or training; further notes that Hillingdon Council and Primary Care Trust have at last suspended the placement of elderly people within these homes; and calls upon the Secretary of State for Health to launch an immediate investigation into care standards in these homes, and the role of the local authority in safeguarding the elderly residents in these settings, to take urgent action to protect the residents of the homes and to improve standards of care, including the withdrawal of contracts from Southern Cross.

It’s quite a staggering story that I hadn’t been aware of. What’s equality amazing to me is that this story doesn’t appear to have been touched by the national press. It has even been relegated to a few lines pointing to a video clip on BBC London – where it was first brought to my attention yesterday.

Fortunately, I could turn to the Hillingdon Times to provide further information.

There are four care homes in Hillingdon that are run by Southern Cross.  Aston House, Ashwood Care Home, Cedar House and Blenheim Care Home.

Now, I don’t know much about Hillingdon apart from it being where Heathrow Airport is but I imagine having to suspend placements in four care homes is having a pretty massive impact on the ability to find local and appropriate placements in the local area.

Where I work, when we have suspensions on placements even in one home, it has a fairly dramatic impact on waiting lists and service provision.

So back to Mr Donnell, the MP involved. He states in the Hillingdon Times that he has had a number of complaints about care in these homes.

“Over the past couple of years, concerns about elderly residential homes in Hillingdon have been raised with me.

“About 18 months ago a group of relatives came to me about how elderly members of their family have been treated.

This is no flash in the pan reaction but a situation that has been brewing over a long period of time.

The spokesman for Southern Cross says, a little ominously

“All except one of the Southern Cross care homes in the Hillingdon area have now received a ‘good’ rating following the latest inspection reports and we are concentrating on delivering a high level of quality care for all our residents.”

Faith in the inspection system isn’t particularly high at the moment and having a ‘good’ rating seems to be possible without necessarily providing a good standard of care.

It surely can’t be a coincidence that Southern Cross keep getting themselves into these situations as they relate to poor care provision.

One of the statements made by Mr Donnell in his statement to the House of Commons was that he didn’t want there to be a ‘Granny P’. All I can say is that there already have been many many older people who have been subjected to situations that are abusive and for which there have been no campaigns, no marches down Whitehall, no hand-wringing about the quality and delivery of adult social care and particularly of residential care.

It says enough that even this story is not more than a couple of lines on a local website anymore and it doesn’t seem to have interested the national press in the slightest.

Of course, you can’t make people be more interested than they are, but I think, were there the publicity behind these incidents, we, the general public, would be equally appalled.

Instead, the private companies cutting costs and poorly managing resources which are meant to be caring services can get away with providing a barely, if at all, acceptable standard of care.

I would love for there to be an investigation in the ways these contracts were handed out by local authorities who contracted out all their locally run residential and nursing homes to private companies. I think a few commissioners could be brought to the table – or at least brought to the homes to see what kind of services they are paying for.

We, social workers who are making placements, have been left with little choice in provision. If all the care homes in a borough are provided by the same company through block contracts worth hundreds of thousands of pounds that have been tied up for decades at a time, how are we in a position to complain to the commissioners about the services they are paying for when they are watching their own backs and in bed with the private care providers.

Just moving back to a personal experience I had a year or so ago. I had concerns about the treatment of someone I was working with in a residential home. I felt that his needs were not being managed. I complained to just about everyone – up to one of the commissioners. The commissioner in question took the word of the service provider over mine. He  had made the decision to award the contract to this care home and therefore felt, I expect, some loyalty to them. That is not how public services should interact with private companies.

edit  – For those with a personal interest in these matters there is an organisation that I have become aware of through the comments on this post which is the Relatives and Residents Association – Go take a look – we can all be more active in applying pressure relating to these matters.

5 thoughts on “Southern Cross and Hillingdon

  1. Isn’t this exactly what we were talking about the other day. If a single child is affected, it is headline news everywhere in the media, but if it is numerous elderly people, then it is relegated to a few lines in the local press. I find this totally appalling. Surely the elderly are entitled to be treated with care and dignity in their declining years, and not used as pawns in a game which sees the lowest bidder winning the prize, and then reducing the standard of care even further to maximize their profit.

  2. It’s interesting to read that these homes have now managed to secure a ‘good’ rating following inspection.

    As a result of changes made earlier this year, if a home is rated as ‘good’ it is unlikely to be visited again for perhaps as long as three years. Previously all homes – regardless of whether they were judged to be good – were visited twice yearly. Things change quite quickly and regular and more frequent inspection is more likely to pick up on poor practice before it becomes the norm and becomes difficult to challenge.

    The body responsible for inspection will change in April, and anyone with concerns needs to keep the pressure on so that the new Care Quality Commission, which will also inspect hospitals, gives as much attention as is necessary to inspecting care homes.

  3. Les – that’s some great work you have done and I’d be happy to link to I will do that during the day or write a separate post about it.

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