Frozen Reading


So I honestly hoped I wouldn’t have to return here, but another Southern Cross Care Home is in the news after a 97 year old woman died last week at the River View Care Centre near Reading as is reported in the Daily Mail.

People die in care homes. It happens. However this particular woman is alleged to have suffered from hypothermia after spending a week, in the afore-mentioned care home, without any heating. In the coldest week for a couple of decades.

It is an allegation still, of course,  but it’s definitely a story as it has been confirmed that the police are investigating – and  I think it is important to follow – the BBC reports a Southern Cross spokesman saying

“On the day that the lady was removed to hospital, the home was visited by nine social workers, and four council engineers,” he said.

“They inspected the heating, which was working normally, and the readings in every room were between 21C and 25C.

“And ever since, all rooms have been inspected twice a day.”

In my experience that is not the usual response to a 97 year old dying in a care home setting.

The local newspaper, the Reading Evening Post reports that

It is alleged the woman died of hypothermia and the police are investigating the privately owned care home, which was given a one-star rating by the Commission for Social Care Inspection in May 2008, deeming it only adequate.

Accusations surrounding the death include a lack of heating in certain parts of the building due to a technical fault which left some rooms in the cold while the outside temperatures were plummeting to well below freezing.

Bench by you.

As usual, I had a look at the latest inspection report for the residential home, dated May 2008. I am not sure what happened to the twice yearly inspections we used to have. River View achieved a one star rating meaning it is ‘adequate’.

Bear in mind that the same inspection report lists the fees as being between £545 and £818 per week.

A quick glance through the report (pdf link)  seems to indicate a lack of social needs being addressed –

Care plans meet residents’ physical needs, they do not address all of people’s social needs and care is not always delivered in a respectful way.

I’ve read a lot of inspection reports in my time, and ‘care is not always delivered in a respectful way’ is actually exceptionally strong by their standards. Definitely worrying. I read on.

During the course of the site visit one member of staff was suspended for inappropriately dealing with a resident.

That has to be remarkable misfortune for there to be an issue at exactly the time the inspector happened to be visiting.

There are, of course positives in the report too, that is the nature of them but they are rarely critical even when a home only receives a one star rating. Maybe they should be less bland in their content.

It is staggering that there isn’t more concern about the level of care in some of these homes that house some of the most vulnerable citizens in the country.

The Telegraph covers the same story and lists a litany of previous failings upheld against Southern Cross

Southern Cross Healthcare PLC was fined £200,000 pounds in January this year after pensioner Maisie Jones fell out of an upstairs window as she tried to escape from one of their care homes in Oxford.

The UK’s largest residential care provider admitted two breaches of Health and Safety regulations at Brookfield Christian Care Home in Greater Leys, Oxford.

In November 2002 Southern Cross’s Bishopsgate Lodge Home in County Duham was found to have a mechanism allowing baths to scald patients with water reaching 53 degrees centigrade.

It was fined £8,000 pounds and costs.

In June 2003 an elderly man died at Alexandra Care an elderly man died at Alexandra Care Centre in Hemel Hempstead, Herts., when he was strangled by a strap on a reclining chair due to a lack of supervision.

The firm paid more than £30,000 pounds in costs and fines.

In April 2005 Margaret O’Mara suffocated in a bed following a series of errors by staff at Hornegarth House in Cannock.

The company was given a record £175,000 pounds fine and paid £15,919 pounds in costs.

I wish I could say it was unbelievable. I know it’s the largest provider of residential care in the UK  but  it isn’t a great track record. By any standards.

6 thoughts on “Frozen Reading

  1. How awful for that poor woman. It says something as a society that we allow this kind of thing to occur. It also says a great deal about the value we place on the elderly, which is obviously not much.

  2. It seems to me that ongoing problems like these are an argument in favour of a proper offence of corporate manslaughter. If senior managers and directors were held personally responsible – as in going to prison, not being fined – for systematic failings in their companies’ care of the vulnerable elderly i suspect standards would improve rapidly.

    And i also think you’re spot on when you say that inspection reports need to be less bland. It shouldn’t be a case of having to interpret what ‘lack of respect’ means. The language should make clear exactly what goes on, whether it’s good, or bad, or a mixture.

    Mind you, everything i’ve just said should be taken with the disclaimer that i’m just a member of the public with no real knowledge of what he’s talking about, so i may well be way off base! Reports like this do tend to make me very angry…

  3. Dear God. I get more and more depressed about this. There is a real crisis going on in elderly care just now and nobody seems to care. We need to wake up and make a fuss about it. We need banner headlines and hour long programmes and a real push on this problem, otherwise it’s just going to continue.

  4. Thanks for the comments –
    Reas – Exactly
    Aethelread – I agree. I want to see more critical inspection reports actually. I hate that they try and gloss over things. I know when I worked in another authority and we had concerns about a particular home, we were told we couldn’t do anything about it because the home’s owners would take the borough to court if we stopped placing people there because we would be withholding business unlawfully (I just told potential resident’s family to read the publicly available inspection documents and indicated certain parts of the report that were less than favourable and told them that it was their decision to make but I could provide alternate placements if they wanted!) This is why inspection documents are so important. They need to be able to be picked up by anyone and for that person to know if their mother is goign to a good or a bad home. I suspect some of the inspection agencies are worried about action from home owners if they are too critical. I might be wrong but it is a suspicion of mine.
    Julie – I agree completely.

  5. Hi CB

    Well what would you think then of a Commissioner who is trying to force providers to accept payments per person of around £450 for residential care?

    That is happening in Northumberland under the ‘leadership’ of Daljit Lally, formerly assistant head of the SSD in Darlington(where she sanctioned as acceptable a Southern Cross Care home which had similar standards to the one you describe).

    The Council is being taken to Judicial Review because the Care providers say this is not enough to sustain an adequate care regime.

    Any thoughts?

  6. Chris – I haven’t actually come across many homes that charge more than £450 for residential care at least, those are fairly standard rates in central London. Of course, nursing care costs can be hundreds more – often up to £700.
    But back to the point, I think mandating particular amounts isn’t helpful. We have guidelines about costs – I think all authorities do – but at least if we can present a good argument as to why the cost needs to be increased – we can – for example, to be nearer to a family member or to meet a particular cultural need.
    Often the local authorities can negotiate strongly with the care providers but they need to be able to provide a good standard of care which isn’t always possible on a budget.
    Unfortunately, there no-one is actually increasing the budgets that local authorities have to pay for the care – noone wants council tax to go up but everyone demands (rightly) good quality care. The money has to come from somewhere.

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