Tag Archives: Johann Hari

Johann Hari’s plan to solve our care home crisis

Johann Hari, journalist and columnist at The Independent, has come up with a 10-point  manifesto to transform the shabby system of care of the elderly in place at present.

Very recently, he wrote an extremely moving account of the last ten years of his grandmother’s life in care, as she suffered atrocious treatment in various care homes.  His article – My grandmother deserved a better ending than this – was apparently the catalyst for the tsunami of emails he received from relatives of people in care homes and from care workers, all sharing their own experiences.

Today Hari cries out again in The Independent, with a list of proposals that some people may think are unnecessary, judging by some of the fatuous comments on his previous article.  But sadly, some of us know only too well how essential this manifesto is – and how long we have been waiting for it.

I do so hope that he will attract more attention than those of us who have been pleading for years now, begging the ‘authorities’ to take positive action to improve the care system.  But our cries were bootless.

Please listen, world, please listen now.  Trust us, believe us, listen to us, hear what we have to say and improve the system once and for all.

It’s not necessary for me to comment on the ten ‘Acts’ of Johann Hari’s plan.   But I applaud each and every one of them.  If I could add just one further point to your plan, Johann, it would be one single acronym for the care system to acknowledge and to live by:

HOT as in HONEST OPEN TRUTHFUL

Be honest – be open – be truthful. Because so far, our so-called care system has been far from HOT.  It has been frozen into inactivity.  Heartless, uncaring, and deaf.

I’ve tried to do my bit to improve some of the Acts too, as have so many people before and since.  I failed miserably in part, because the might of the local authority is great.  As is the might of the mental health care of older people team, able to engage and pay for massive amounts of legal advice when I challenged the shoddy standards of that particular mental health care of older people team, and their ‘convenient’ interpretation, use and abuse of the Mental Capacity Act.  (I’m still working on ‘others’ involved.)

That legal advice was all paid for from the public purse, of course.  The tax payer and the Council tax payer paid the price of that.  All to preserve the dignity and reputation of the local authority, the care home provider, the CQC/CSCI, and the reputation of all the other weasels involved.

My relative paid the ultimate price.

I would have preferred the ‘authorities’ to have spent that money on care, rather than on legal advice to protect their puffed-up selves – and to protect the puffed-up care provider.

Where were you then, Paul Burstow?  Neither you nor your predecessor was willing to listen then.  You are all there when it comes to talking about money and funding, but you’re strangely absent when it comes to the discussion of care standards and quality of care.

The CQC/CSCI is blind, deaf and toothless.

The policy in place to protect vulnerable adults from abuse carried the name ‘No secrets’ – but secrets is precisely what the authorities operate, preserve and protect.  In their own best interests – but not in the best interests of the vulnerable adults.

We should be ashamed that such a manifesto is necessary – but it is absolutely essential.  We are supposed to be civilised – but we are not.

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The ordeals of care in the UK

After I blogged my letter to Santa, the festive holiday season came and went and I thought I’d try to calm down a little this year, and take things more gently.  Things were going well – and then, I listened to Radio 4’s Face the Facts on the exploitation of immigrant workers in the care sector in the UK.  An excellent programme presented by John Waite.

The workers are exploited by the dubious agencies and unregulated gangmasters who hire them, rip them off before they even arrive here, and provide their services to the care industry, where they work with many vulnerable older people in need of good quality care.  They are treated like slaves, have no complaints procedures to help them, have to put up with and shut up about that exploitation as they go about their work.

It sounds so very similar to the way in which the ‘care industry’ in this rich, so-called civilised country of ours, treats vulnerable older residents in care.   Those residents are treated badly too, with no complaints procedures to change the standards of care.  They too have to put up with and shut up about sub-standard care, because of similar fears to those voiced in the Face the Facts programme by some of the workers interviewed.

The care industry is allowed to exploit staff, by paying below minimum wage, with no contract of employment, no security, no job prospects, no training, no future, force them to work 50-60 hours a week, force them to work for four months without even one day off ….  How on earth can care workers working under those conditions provide good quality care?  It is impossible.

Nobody cares enough to make a difference.  To make it different.  To  change things for the better – once and for all and for always.

This weekend was supposed to be a peaceful, gentle, averagely average weekend.  But yesterday, I read Johann Hari’s article in the Independent about his experience of residential care during the 10 years he struggled to find decent care for his Grandmother.

Today’s Independent follows up with the news that Paul Burstow, Care Services Minister, has condemned the ordeal of Johann Hari’s Grandmother as ‘appalling’.  He now promises ‘new checks on elderly care’, says that the Care Quality Commission (CQC) has been given extra powers to crack down on poorly-run homes, and that he’s determined to tackle concerns over the use of antipsychotic drugs.  I respect Johann Hari, and I have no wish to add to his personal struggles.  But, my question to Paul Burstow would be: have you not been made aware of the far worse ordeals that some people have to go through in residential care homes?  Why has it taken you so long to comment?  Or is it just that most of us don’t get our stories published in the press?  We struggle on, trying to improve things – but nobody listens to us.

Burstow urged people with complaints about the treatment of relatives to ‘come forward’.

We have been doing that for years, Paul Burstow, but nobody has been willing to listen.  There is a limit to the number of doors we can all bang on, shouting ourselves hoarse, if nobody listens and acts once and for all.

Yes, I am feeling very angry at present – and that’s nothing unusual when it comes to thinking about the lack of care we allow to be provided to our older people.

In the Face the Facts programme, Martin Green  (Chief Executive of the English Community Care Association) representing 5000 care providers could scarcely bring himself to use the word ‘residents’ – he could only refer to care home residents as ‘they’.  According to Green, he justified the ‘expensive business’ and cost of residential care by explaining that ‘they’ get accommodation, ‘they’ get food, ‘they’ get specialist support, ‘they’ get a lot of activities.   Martin Green needs to visit a few care homes pronto!

In April 2009 Ed Davey Lib Dem MP was of the opinion that the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) remit should be extended to cover vulnerable care workers too and he even signed an Early Day Motion (EDM1366) along with 93 other MPs.  But now that he’s Minister for Employment Relations in the ConDemOlition, he’s changed his mind.

His Statement to Face the Facts: There are no current plans to extend the remit of the GLA and we certainly do not need more licensing to be introduced into sectors such as the care industry. The government has no intention of burdening the majority of companies who run a reputable business with an expensive licensing scheme. Transcript of the Face the Facts programme is available here.

Frank Ursell, chief executive officer of the Registered Nursing Home Association, has apparently warned that homes – which rely on council funding for around two-thirds of their income – could be forced to cut spending on staffing, food or activities because of the cash squeeze facing the sector. He said “People talk about quality but then they pay peanuts. What is it exactly that they expect?”

Is £1000 per week for dementia care in a care home ‘peanuts’?  No, I don’t think so, Frank Ursell.  It’s a fortune.   It represents the savings built up over a lifetime of hard graft by many of the older people in residential care.  I know what I’d like to do with some nuts, including yours Mr Ursell!

Frank Ursell represents the interests of care home owners; Martin Green represents the interests of small, medium and large care providers.  Now, remind me, please someone – who is it that represents the interests of older people in residential care?  How often are their interests paramount in the thinking of the care industry?

A while ago, a report was issued detailing the ‘average amount of contact time’ any resident of a care home could expect to meet.  I can’t find that report now, so I won’t quote a figure, but it was a pathetically low number of minutes per day.  (If anyone can point me in the direction of that Report, I’d be grateful.)

As for staffing levels: There are no legal standards that we can refer to – staffing levels are supposed to be adjusted to match and to meet the needs of the residents in care.  Note the words: ‘supposed to be adjusted’ – the reality is very different, and a skeleton staff is the norm.

As for activities: virtually non-existent in the majority of care homes.  Hence the TV is always on and blaring, even though the residents may not be watching or even wanting to watch day in, day out.

As for Paul Burstow, please show that you care.  Convert your hollow words into meaningful action.  The residents of care homes don’t have time to wait for you all to deliberate, to make promises that never come to fruition, to waffle on endlessly about how appalled you are.

Decisive action is required.  Immediately.  Actions speak louder than words, after all.

That will be the only way we will ever believe that you care.

The weekend begins now.

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