That's right, Panorama on the BBC last night. I didn't watch it... I watched and read the comments and disbelief washing all over Twitter. I suppose it's a reflection of the people I follow, but at one point 90% of the tweets I was seeing were something to do with care homes and care workers. Of course all were expressing shock and sorrow that such an appalling thing could be going on.
You won't be surprised to hear that I have a lot to say on the whole subject of care homes and care workers and in particular, how they care for people with autism and learning disabilities. Our daughter lives with us at home and we know how difficult she can be, but that goes without saying, when she is not staying at home she stays in a small respite house, one of half a dozen or so run and owned by the local authority which take a maximum of four clients at any one time for a few nights of respite care each month.
They are almost fully booked for the foreseeable future, and sometimes stays have to be cancelled because they have to use the respite beds for emergencies. Carers get sick too, particularly the elderly ones, and if they have to go into hospital or even worse, pass away, places have to be found quickly for the upset and confused sons or daughters in reasonably familiar and homely surroundings with people they know and trust. These are ordinary houses in ordinary streets and fortunately for us, our local authority uses this model when moving people who need constant care and attention out of the family home and into supported living. Ideally three compatible clients and of course care assistants or workers who are aware of the difficulties these people are facing and are trained and confident enough to deal with them. Now and again things go wrong, but on the whole it works and most people are happy with the way it works. The thought of any of the people I know living in these houses being placed in a hospital setting for care is absolutely awful.
Of course, I do not know all the details of the dreadful happenings in Bristol but the fact that it is being described as a 'private hospital' speaks volumes to me. I have no experience of private hospitals as such, but I do have a little experience of the privately run care homes for the elderly, my own mother was in one briefly here in Wales and my husbands grandmother was in one in London, and her daughter, my husbands aunt now in her late 90's is in one also in London. In all three cases, care was and is only just achieved and individual needs a nuisance to a mainly foreign staff with very little understanding of the English language, here I should say that some of them were and are angels in a very difficult place, albeit scrupulously clean and ordered and run with military precision! I won't bore you with the bedsores, broken leg, disappearing chocolates, disappearing shoes, disappearing teeth, dreadful food and so on and so on. It was and is the indifference that bothers me.
We all know that caring is an expensive business, £20,000 to £30,000 per annum for the elderly, give or take ten grand either way, finding a figure for the cost of care for a person with learning difficulties, a disability, autism or mental health problems is more difficult, but at the bare minimum it seems to be more than three times the cost for the elderly.
Pause for thought and a flight into fantasy... £100.000 per annum... I could pay off the mortgage, get the bathroom sorted out, do a few repairs around the place, even have a little holiday... all in one year!
Back to reality, you can see why the private care home for the elderly businesses expanded into the care for the disabled business! Sadly I don't think they realised that caring for the disabled is a completely different kettle of fish. We have private care providers who are supposed to fill the gaps social services can't cater for.. they are a disaster, they send out domiciliary care workers to people who don't know them and are expecting to be taken out if only to walk around the shops and have a cup of tea. I won't bore you with the extended telephone debacle which took place between me and one such care provider over five days a couple of weeks ago which resulted in complaints being made and apologies being received and over a week of anxiety and upset for our daughter which spilled over as challenging behaviors at home and at the Day Centre. It was a very difficult couple of weeks which could have been avoided if the care provider had got its act together and delivered the correct training for their staff, and I mean all of their staff including managers and the poor girl in the office, who has yet to master the art of delivering bullshit down the telephone in a convincing manner!
When it comes to providing services of any sort to service users in their own home, in a shared supported living home, in a 'private hospital', in fact, wherever a person with learning difficulties, autism, CP, Downs, mental health problems or whatever spends most of their time, they and their families should be able to expect those services to be fit for purpose. Fully trained staff who treat their clients with the respect they deserve.
It is a sad reflection of our society that it takes a current affairs television programme to make the 'authorities' take notice, I suppose we have to be thankful there wasn't something really interesting on another channel and enough people did watch and comment to make it front page news this morning. Eminent people, experts, professors, cabinet ministers and the like are being wheeled out to make comment and people have been arrested. For the first time in quite a long while now I'm able to say I do not sense the usual indifference.
Some of us have been aware of instances of bad practice taking place but have said or done nothing, not from indifference but from the knowledge that although a complaint will be listened to sympathetically and appear to have been addressed it will only have been brushed under the carpet, usually because dealing with the problem will cost money. Most annoyingly from the parent carer point of view, is the innate superiority that some (and thankfully fewer as time passes) care professionals display when you question aspects of what is happening with your son or daughter, they obviously haven't run across the excellent Expert Patient programme which is being made available to parent carers in many regions now!
At the very least, many more people will now be aware of instances of abuse and malpractice within social care, possibly even newly aware that there is such a thing as social care for the people some members of the press have been insulting with the label 'benefit scroungers' in recent months. Awareness is a good thing, we need more of it! So thank you to the brave whistle blower for persevering and thank you BBC for the broadcast. Now lets hope the government gives this more than just lip service and sees the danger of privatisation and the lack of accountability inherent within it, especially when you are dealing with societies most vulnerable members, many of whom do not have a voice.