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  • Sarah Whitebloom

One person was woken up by having a banana forced into their mouth - another week of 'care'

EVERY so often, there is a care home report so shocking, so unpleasant, it is almost unbelievable. This is one of those weeks. There is a stand-out report from the care regulator – about Alton House, a family-owned home in Hornchurch, Essex.

Alton House is far from alone, from Yorkshire to Cheshire from Cornwall to Wolverhampton and St Albans, the Care Quality Commission released 11 damning reports in the week to 19 October – four received the worst possible rating for every aspect of life.

Reading the report on family-owned Alton House takes your breath away.

The home boasts a 9/10 score from the industry ratings website and on its own website boasts: We provide personal care in a person-centred care path, to meet the needs of our clients. Treat and value clients as individuals, listen to their views and choices, respected their individuality and identity.

Without a hint of irony, it adds: ‘Being in a caring homely environment surrounded by caring staff and family we can provide a comfortable environment for our clients.

Alton House

But Alton House is one of the small band of homes in England to be entirely without redeeming features, according to its latest CQC report. It was awarded ‘Inadequate’ grades for everything – from safety to care to leadership. But most worrying was the attitude displayed by the home and the desperation of the residents.

Most care homes make an extra effort when the regulator comes calling. But, in a shocking passage, the CQC inspectors said: ‘During afternoon tea we observed one staff member wake up a person who was sleeping by forcing a banana into their mouth without their consent. As the person awoke, staff told the person, "It is yum" before walking away and letting the banana fall into the person's lap.’

Elsewhere, they report: ‘We observed one person being force fed their food. One person was eating potatoes and said, "I don't like potatoes but I will eat a few. I don't care anymore. I have given up."’

In a genuinely troubling passage, the CQC noted: ‘People told us they did not feel safe. When we asked people if they trusted staff to keep them safe, one person said, "No I don't think so." We spoke to relatives who had concerns about people's safety. One relative said, "The only risk is the staff, if [person] died I wonder how long it'd be before they found [person]."’

Although many people believe family-owned homes offer a guarantee of good quality, the CQC report contains many appalling episodes: ‘We also saw one staff member say to a person, "Your jumper needs changing tonight it is yuk." Another person was woken up by staff shouting their name in their face.’

As ever, many problems relate to staffing: ‘People, relatives and staff felt the service did not have sufficient numbers of staff. When we asked people if they felt there were enough staff to support them, one person said, "Not really, I am sat around waiting to die."’

Meanwhile, the inspectors reported on a can't-do attitude: ‘We found that the service did not have any male carers. When we asked the registered manager what they would do if someone preferred a male carer they said, "Most men don't care, most women want women. If that is what they wanted we wouldn't be able to accept them. What are we going to do, employ a male just for one or two men to be happy and then those staff can't touch the women, no thanks?"’

As if to confirm the concern that the inspection system regularly fails to identify poor care, the Priory Nursing Home in Telford also received an all bad report from the CQC last week – just four months after it declared the home all good.

As observed previously, the regulator only ‘discovered’ there were problems in the home after being given information by a third party, rather than making the discovery during an inspection.

Indeed, in the April report, the inspectors praised the home: ‘The lunch time experience was relaxed and sociable and people did not have to wait for long periods for their meals. Since the last inspection the provider had purchased hot trolleys which meant staff did not have to rush to and from the kitchen with people's meals.’

But in this latest report, after someone else had told the regulator the home was not good, the CQC took a different view: ‘We observed the mealtime experience during our inspection. People were provided with plated meals from a hot trolley and we observed that staff poured gravy over the meals, including curry, without asking people.’

Trecarrel care home in Cornwall was also given a very poor report – which we reported on in September but has, for some reason, been released again!

Meanwhile, another family-owned home received an ‘Inadequate’ clean sweep. Holme Bank in Wolverhampton boasts on its website: ‘The home is run by the owners, alongside Care Manager....who supervise a team of trained and experienced staff 24 hours a day. Our aim is to provide a loving and caring environment where the residents can feel relaxed and secure whilst enjoying the maximum of privacy.’

According to the CQC, however, half the residents had lost significant weight and the regulator had been warned by the public and the Local Authority about care at the home.

Food was clearly a problem: ‘We heard staff say they had run out of certain items which impacted on the menu. The cook told us they regularly did not follow the menu due to the availability of food.’

But, as is usually the case with poor homes, there were concerns over the staffing levels: ‘Care staff we spoke with all reported concerns with staffing levels due to the high dependency needs of many people living at the service. A staff member said, "There's not enough staff. We're not able to meet people's needs. We struggle".’

Click here to see OLM’s Guide to Choosing a Care Home.

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