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  • Sarah Whitebloom

Worst Care Part Three: Do regulators care more about older people than those with disabilities?

You could hardly expect to read a worse report than was published on 13 September into The Laurels, one of the Horsham-based residential homes at the centre of Police enquiries into deaths in the Sussex Healthcare group.

It was The Laurels’s fourth bad report in less than a year and gave the home three ‘Inadequate’ marks – for Safety, Effectiveness and Management – and an overall ‘Inadequate’ rating.

According to the Care Quality Commission’s report, this was no small matter. Residents were at risk and there had been physical assaults: ‘Prior to this inspection the West Sussex County Council (WSCC) shared information of concern relating to specific allegations of unsafe practice and abuse by staff towards people living in the Aspen Lodge unit of service. These allegations included physical assault and unauthorised restraint of people. WSCC also raised other concerns...regarding incidents of physical assault between people, insufficient staffing levels and an unsafe physical environment in people's bedrooms...These concerns all potentially placed people at increased risk of abuse and harm.’

And yet the home for 27 residents with disabilities remains open – even now.

A day later, however, on 14 September, the CQC issued another report into a Sussex Healthcare home. It too received three ‘Inadequate’ marks, for Safety, Efficiency and Management. It too was criticised, although until March this year, Horncastle House near East Grinstead was rated ‘Good’ and was not at the centre of Police enquiries.

It was, however, home to 26 older people, many of whom were living with dementia. And it was closed by the authorities that day, leaving residents forced to find alternative accommodation with immediate effect.

The report had been anything good. It listed a long catalogue of problems, and stated: ‘Staff also told us there were not enough of them to consistently meet people's needs for care and support. One staff said "The safety of the resident and their wellbeing is my main priority, but sometimes we don't have time. We have really been short staffed here. We just have two nurses. As you can see I am doing my best, but I am just so busy. I try and talk to the residents as much as I can". Another staff commented "Two permanent nurses and no permanent manager means we are always run off our feet, but we try our best". A further staff member added; "Sometimes I am so tired, I could cry".

But it was not worse than the report into The Laurels – or into hundreds of other homes regulated by the CQC - many of which are sitting on even worse reports. Take a look at some of the other reports published in the last month.

OLM has often questioned why vulnerable residents are left in unsafe conditions – for which they must pay. So we are not about to complain.

But why, in this case, has the home for people with disabilities been allowed to continue in business, while the home for older people was rapidly shut?

Would it be too difficult to place residents with disabilities elsewhere, so they have to be left in an unsafe home?

Or is there some other reason why the well-being of 26 older people is a matter of urgency, when that of 27 people with disabilities is not?

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