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  • Sarah Whitebloom

Why older people are forced to live in unsafe care homes

Since May, the Care Quality Commission has refused to reveal if care homes it knew to be unsafe were the site of more of the Covid 19 outbreaks which led to some 18,000 care home residents’ deaths.

You can understand why it is reluctant. What would it say about the CQC’s system of regulation, if it had routinely allowed dangerously unsafe care homes to carry on caring for highly-vulnerable residents, even in the face of a pandemic?

But, truth is, the CQC’s regulatory system means there are hundreds of care homes in England which have never had a ‘good’ report, but which are home to many thousands of vulnerable people.

A report was published on Saturday into Essex-based care home, which the regulator had known to be unsafe. It shows the home was the site of a devastating Covid 19 outbreak, described as ‘horrific’ by staff.

It seems highly unlikely the CQC, a publicly funded body, would have deliberately released this report on a Saturday, amid all the brouhaha around the US election, in order to conceal these findings.

But the regulator is very keen to make sure the public does not know what has happened across the sector - refusing to provide data and ignoring Freedom of Information requests.

In the case of the Essex based care home, it was formerly ‘Good’ before an inspection in March discovered standards had declined markedly since the last inspection in 2017. Three years is a very long time. That’s one of the problems with the CQC system, on top of the fact the CQC allows bad homes to remain in business, inspections are just a ‘snapshot’ of a home, every 2-3 years. In the interim, anything could and does happen.

Currently, CQC is allowing nearly 200 homes officially ‘Inadequate’ and another 2,338 ‘Requiring improvement’ to carry on in business.

Many are officially ‘unsafe’. That’s a real thing. As part of the inspection, the inspectors are required to state if a home is ‘safe’. Too often, they are not. But the CQC allows them to remain in business anyway, because otherwise a home might close down.

The regulator's view has traditionally been that it can work with home owners, to help them improve. But many homes, including high-end, luxury ones, owned by big businesses, do not improve. About 500 care homes have not had a good report in the five years since the inspection system started.

But people are living in these long-term unsafe homes. The consequences of such a policy could be catastrophic.

Imagine if this were, say, schools. Teachers and parents already fear schools may be unsafe because of Covid and want lessons held online.

But imagine if those schools had been officially labelled unsafe, but not only were teachers and children obliged to be in lessons, they were forced to live there – under pain of arrest. Such is the situation in care homes.

The CQC says it is not in the public interest for people to know if Covid 19 disproportionately affected these known unsafe homes.

Maybe it fears that members of the public will ‘misinterpret’ such data? Perhaps, ‘totally unreasonably’, in the CQC’s view, people would act on such information and ‘irresponsibly’ attempt to remove their mothers and fathers from harm’s way.

Who knows, the high-handed regulator won't tell us.

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