The Commerce of Care

Following from my last blog, there has been a new development in the national debate about how we look after vulnerable people in society who are disadvantaged by circumstances of birth or advanced age, . The B.B.C. ‘Panorama’ programme shown earlier week and which I have seen, revealed how residents with learning difficulties in a commercially run hospital in our nearby city of Bristol, were ritually and grotesquely mistreated. The Care Quality Commission was alerted to the situation three times by a senior nurse who had worked in the Hospital. His concern was ignored. The Chairperson who is in charge of the C.Q C. has had the embarrassing job this week of being interviewed by newspapers and TV channels if not to explain this failure, certainly to apologise for it.

Four of the Care Home helpers have been arrested by the police and altogether thirteen of the staff have lost their jobs. The company who owns the Hospital have said that all the residents will be moved to other homes.

Q.C.C. has ensured that the hospital will not admit any new patients. In a long statement they say that they are working with the primary care trusts and councils who pay for the care of people at the hospital, and have started an immediate review of all services run by company who own the home. The Government’s Care Services Minister Paul Burstow has said that people deserve to receive safe and effective care from every care provider. “I have confirmed with Q. C.C. that they should undertake a series of unannounced inspections of services for people with learning disabilities’.

Coincidental with this case, the news came out this week that Britain’s largest commercial elderly people’s Care Home company is in danger of bankruptcy. They control accommodation for 31,000 frail people in 750 homes and hospitals. The owners of the company apparently sold the business at a huge profit, so that they could then rent the homes back from the new owners.

Southern Cross was free to dabble in this sale and leaseback scheme (normal business practice I understand), putting at serious risk the viability of their business and the wellbeing of many thousands of vulnerable people.

I was at concert in Bath’s Assembly Rooms this week. On the seats were brochures of the BMI Bath Clinic, a private hospital on the outskirts of the city. A strange time for the Clinic to be advertising itself, I thought, when there is so much public disquiet at people making money out of health needs, and with so little accountability or regulation. ‘You can trust us to look after you’ says the brochure. It may well be so. People speak well of the hospital. But it is precisely trust in the private sector,that for many of us is lacking just now.