Briars Retirement Home

Yesterday, as reported in Community Care, Annette Hopkins (owner)  and Margaret Priest (manager) ,  of Briars Retirement Home in Southampton have been found guilty under the Mental Capacity Act of neglect on 10 and 4 counts respectively.

It’s an interesting case as the Mental Capacity Act introduced a new offence of ‘wilful  neglect’ of someone who lacks capacity and while sentencing for Hopkins and Priest is expected today, the maximum tariff under the Act is 5 years and/or a fine. I wonder if that will be on each count.

It’s very telling that this was only codified as a distinct offence in the 2005 Act.

Community Care explains that

Residents at the Briars Retirement Home in Southampton were found dehydrated and in pain and with gaps in their medication and food records. All of the affected residents lacked mental capacity.

Which is beyond shocking in itself and one has to wonder what if the press response would be louder if it were animals being kept in this condition. A telling indictment of the value that older and incapacitated adults may have in our society.

Trawling back through the Daily Mail website (I know, I know – bad for my blood pressure), I find an article from 2008 when they discuss exactly this case. The headline, bizarrely, is a quote from Hopkins – ‘We all make mistakes’. Yes, Hopkins, we might all make mistakes but we certainly don’t all wilfully neglect other human beings causing pain and dehydration.

The article does though, expound wonderfully, the duplicity of the Mail. The article quotes Hopkins at length saying

‘The problem is the heart rules the head,’ she added. ‘You think you can give that bit of extra care.

‘I thought we were a good care home. We have tried to do right but by trying we have done wrong.’

Of course, they also find family members of other residents who criticise the heartless council for moving other residents out as the home was happily closed.

Where does the problem lie? Possibly that residential care has been seen as a source of money for private companies. There are many very caring and very competent people in the field of residential care but there are also some people who seem to revel in working with some very vulnerable people.

The local website ‘This is Hampshire’ explains some of the litany of offences in more detail – and make the Mail’s defence all the stranger

Police told how the full disturbing catalogue of failures included how:
■ Residents were malnourished and dehydrated
■ The place they called home had a strong stench of urine and the floors were filthy and faeces-stained
■ Dirty bedding and incontinence pads were left lying on the floor, mixed with clean clothing
■ Medication would be handed out by unqualified staff and was sometimes given to the wrong people
■ Bosses were not qualified but claimed they were through years of doing the job
■ Staff didn’t have the right equipment to lift residents who needed to move
■ The wrong beds were used, leaving residents with severe sores
■ Some were so ill or incapable they should have been in a nursing home

The initial concerns were raised by district nurses visiting the home. It makes one wonder how effective the then-CSCI (now CQC) are in monitoring what is actually happening in residential services that might not have other people coming in and noticing some of the things that have been going on – this is, after all, an extreme case.

Interestingly, the Basingstoke Gazette, reporting from the trial claims that Hopkins told the jury

“It got to the stage where they (the CSCI) were saying if you don’t get it right, then you are out.

“But people were asking ‘How can we get it right if there is no one to tell us how?’ We were told that we had to do it for ourselves because each care home was different It wasn’t until another inspection that we knew whether we were doing it wrong.”

She added: “If only we had had more help, and it’s not that I am just saying that because I am here (in court) now. It had been going on for years.”

Which seems at best disingenuous. Surely her job is to KNOW what is right and as a professional she should have a care to exactly what is needed to run a safe and comfortable residential home or she should have no business in trying to do so. Maybe people manage to run homes very effectively without being told exactly what to do by the CQC. It’s hard to imagine that this was seen to be a credible statement – indeed, the guilty verdict indicates that it wasn’t.

More tellingly she said

the care plans were done for the benefit of the inspectors and that on a day to day basis there were procedures in place to ensure staff were well trained in the care required for each person at The Briars.

The fact that care plans should be considered to be done for the benefit of inspectors as opposed to the residents living in the home under her care says everything about the way the home was run and the attitudes of the management. Training obviously has a very different meaning in her eyes if it results in such poor management as occurred and resulted in the death and maltreatment of a number of very vulnerable people.

The problem is that there is a surplus of poor residential homes and it has been allowed to exist and continue to exist because older people or at least older people who might be in the council-funded, privately run care homes have a much quieter voice. The newspapers are happy to play along to the narrative of an oppressive social services department that barges in and asks awkward questions to the ‘caring’ home managers and owners.

There needs to be a far firmer, far more involved inspection process to weed out the worst offenders and ultimately to save lives but it won’t happen as long as the narrative of cuts in public services is taking place. The irony is that cutting social care budgets will increase NHS costs massively.

One thought on “Briars Retirement Home

  1. “The newspapers are happy to play along to the narrative of an oppressive social services department that barges in and asks awkward questions to the ‘caring’ home managers and owners. ”

    You couldn’t be more spot on. It is interesting to see the change from one stereotype to the other as well. After the trial the media are reaching for the one labelled ‘money-grabbing care home owner’ (very true in this case)… but in case you think social services, CQC and the police are vindicated there is now criticism they didn’t act sooner

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