A masterclass in public relations was played out last week as the care industry went from big bad villains on the morning news to an industry doing an overwhelmingly good job in difficult circumstances at lunchtime to an industrial victim of Government cuts by the time the evening broadcasts went out over the airwaves. Whatever they are paying their PRs, it is not enough
It all started because, five days ago the Care Quality Commission, the main care regulator, announced the shocking news that 25 per cent of residential homes are actually 'unsafe'. It's dreadful. How can the care industry possibly present that in a good light?
Imagine the meeting. Around a large table, worried care home bosses are wondering why they ever left retail and logistics. No one generally accuses you of abusing elderly people when you're running a delivery company. But the Today programme was full of it: harsh, unrelenting news that 1 in 4 care homes are unsafe. Telephones are ringing off the hook with reporters clamouring to find out how many old ladies and assorted war heroes they are neglecting today.
PRs to the rescue with the simplest trick in the book. If one in four is unsafe, that must mean that three in four are safe. Looks of relief are exchanged over the mahogany - that young account manager is brilliant. Someone give him a pay rise.
But will the press fall for it?...Yes, happily, the press is well used to the PRs' long spoons and is eager to 'move the story on' with something fresh. So by lunchtime, reporters are pointing out that the 'overwhelming' majority of care homes are perfectly good - or even better. Sorry 25 per cent of Grannies, the news bandwagon is on the roll.
By teatime, it has parked neatly in Whitehall. Flushed with their earlier success, the PRs have used their disaster story as a plea for cash. Not only are most of their care homes simply super, those ones that are 'unsafe' are unsafe because they are not being given enough public money. Give them more money, they seem to say, and Grandad will be safe, oblivious to how it sounds.
Does the press fall for it, again? Yes...and so do Opposition politicians and others who are keen to blame the Government. And Ministers admit that care providers are finding the current market difficult and even promise that bad care homes will be given all the help they need to improve.
In two bounds, the care industry was free - and, as usual, asking for more cash. It's not their fault that one in four care homes are actually unsafe. It's the Government's, it's the local authorities' and, maybe, it's the older people's fault too - for living inconveniently.
Yes, of course social care cuts are a bad thing. But the reality is that 'high end' care homes, which charge as much as £200 a day, are also failing CQC inspections. There is no lack of funding, but expensive homes are being adjudged 'unsafe' because they are not providing decent care or staffing levels- proving it is not just about money, whatever the industry would like you to believe.
Take a look at the CQC's list of failing care homes for over 65s and you will see the names of leading care home providers among them. Cash is king when it comes to care.