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Care Homes – why Regulation needs Reform

3 min read

Ahead of his debate, Conservative MP Peter Heaton-Jones writes for PoliticsHome on the need to regulate the care home industry saying "that we could improve things a great deal relatively simply. "


Three years ago, while still a mere parliamentary candidate, a local resident in North Devon told me a very moving story.  John Barrass’ mother, a former resident at a private care home, had died in 2009.  Mr Barrass had serious concerns about the care she received in the final weeks of her life.  In particular, he believed a poor system of inspection, regulation and complaint-handling was partly responsible.

In the years since his mother died, Mr Barrass had pursued all avenues to have her case fully investigated.  He invariably hit a brick wall, so began looking beyond his individual circumstances to examine the more general question of how care homes are inspected and regulated, and how complaints are dealt with.  He came to the conclusion that the system was simply not fit for purpose, and met me to explain why.  That was the birth of a long campaign which reaches another milestone with this Thursday’s adjournment debate.

Since Mrs Barrass’ death, the Care Quality Commission has indeed now overhauled its regulatory regime, which is welcome.  However the fundamental purpose of regulation must be to drive up standards, and 4 in 10 establishments are still rated as ‘requires improvement’ or ‘inadequate’.  We wouldn’t allow this in the NHS; we shouldn’t do so in the private care home sector.  Further reforms are needed so that the whole system of regulation is focused more on individuals and less on targets, spreadsheets or a ‘tick box’ mentality.

Another major concern is that the complaints system is too complex and disjointed.  People just don’t know who to turn to when they are worried that something isn’t right.  We could solve this quickly and cheaply, simply by requiring every care home to display a standard notice clearly setting out the complaints procedure.  It’s incredible that this isn’t mandatory already.  In addition, there are a growing number of reports of relatives being banned from care homes simply for complaining, as highlighted by the ‘Your Voice Matters’ campaign.  That needs to stop.

There are an estimated 300,000 older people living in around 17,000 registered care homes in England.  Their average age is 85 and a significant proportion suffer from dementia.  They are people largely without a voice, and that must change.  When I arrived in Parliament in 2015, I took up the issue with numerous letters, meetings and lobbying events, culminating in a Westminster Hall debate last November.  On the first anniversary of that session I’ve secured this adjournment debate both to highlight the progress we’ve made and to seek further reforms.

Social care is, of course, a huge challenge.  I don’t seek to solve that in 30 minutes on Thursday.  My principal point is that we could improve things a great deal relatively simply.  There are many good care homes with dedicated staff working extremely hard on often low wages.  But there are still too many establishments that are not good enough - which means old, vulnerable people may be suffering. That needs to end.  

 

Older people's charity, Independent Age, released a statement ahead of the care homes debate, saying: we need an honest debate about how we adequately fund an adult care system fit for purpose.” Read the full response here

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