Psychopathy Care system
A very humble crusader: One woman's journey into the dark heart of Britain's care system
By Barbara Davies
Last updated at 1:51 AM on 13th July 2011
Whistle-blower: Eileen Chubb exposed the home where she worked and set up Compassion In Care in 2001
Of all the incidents of abuse that Eileen Chubb has witnessed in Britain’s care homes for the elderly, one in particular stands out in her mind. A Dunkirk veteran suffering from chronic dementia had been left without pain relief for several hours in the home in Bromley, Kent, where she was working as a care assistant.
The old man’s catheter hadn’t been emptied and his urine was flowing back up into his bladder, placing him at severe risk of infection.
When Eileen, a former carer herself, challenged the member of staff who was meant to be looking after the sick pensioner, she was told: ‘I’ll do it after Coronation Street. He’s a bloody nuisance.’
Even worse, however, was what the Dunkirk veteran said when 52-year-old Eileen went to his aid. ‘He told me that if he had known in 1940 what he would face at the end of his life, he wouldn’t have swum out to the boat that rescued him from the beach in France,’ she recalls. ‘I felt so ashamed at that moment, ashamed that we live in a country that treats the elderly like this.’
Unwilling to turn a blind eye, Eileen exposed the home where she worked and set up Compassion In Care in 2001 as a direct result of the terrible things she saw while working as a carer. Determined to fight abuse and poor standards in British care homes, she now runs the charity on donations of just a few hundred pounds a year from her tiny two-bedroom home in Petts Wood, Kent.
The most poignant contributions are the 50p coins taped to postcards sent by pensioners, and she often walks miles between railway stations and the homes she visits because the charity’s tiny funds mean she can’t afford a taxi.
By her own admission, she is only able to scratch at the surface of the crisis afflicting Britain’s beleaguered care system.
And yet for years she has been passing on her findings to the Government and warning of the devastating consequences of allowing profit-hungry companies to run Britain’s care homes — as tragically demonstrated by this week’s collapse of Britain’s largest care-home chain, Southern Cross.
‘Private companies cut staff levels to the bone as soon as they take over a care home,’ says Eileen. ‘That has a domino effect. Every aspect of care begins to suffer.’
Southern Cross’s former owner, U.S. private equity firm Blackstone, stripped the company of its capital, selling every single one of the homes it owned and then renting them back from other companies. This sale-and-lease ploy gave them a £1 billion profit when they sold off the firm in 2007.
But consequently, Southern Cross became tied into rising rental agreements with landlords which saddled it with a £250 million rental bill — a sum it increasingly struggled to pay.
The recession and public spending cuts, combined with a drop in earnings from local authorities, which fund around 85 per cent of Southern Cross’s residents, also spelled disaster for standards at the homes.
On Monday, the firm announced it would continue to pay rents for another four months, but after that it would close down. The Government has refused to assure all Southern Cross residents that they would be able to stay in their homes — only that it will take measures to prevent them ending up on the streets.
The collapse comes as no surprise to Eileen, because a large number of calls to her charity hotline came from carers at Southern Cross homes, concerned that staff shortages were leaving residents at risk of neglect and abuse. Most of them reported their fears to official bodies, only to find that they fell on deaf ears.
As a result, Eileen went undercover — posing as the relative of a potential client — and has visited 50 Southern Cross homes throughout England in the past few years.
This is more than the national regulatory body, the Care Quality Commission,
which has itself come under heavy fire in recent months for reducing the number
of inspections it carries out. According to the Commisions’s own data, it
reviewed just 49 homes in the six months to April 2011 and found concerns in 26
— more than half.
Failure: A Southern Cross Healthcare home, at risk after the group went bust
What Eileen saw will only add to the already shocking allegations of malpractice against the company, which owns 750 care homes across the UK. ‘I knew there was a problem,’ says Eileen. ‘Every single call I have ever had from a carer or concerned relative has been borne out by what I’ve seen in the home they were raising concerns about.
‘Amazingly, the staff were so complacent that even though I was a visitor, they didn’t bother to hide a lot of the neglect. I heard people locked behind closed doors wailing and the staff just ignored them.’
At a Southern Cross care home in Kent, she saw elderly patients with dementia mixed in with younger adults with mental health issues.
‘I saw one young adult resident punching an elderly lady in the arm, over and over again in front of the manager, and nothing was done.’
And at a Southern Cross care home in London, she noticed residents with finger bruise marks on their arms.
In Tyneside, she visited a care home where the smell of stale urine was so strong it made her eyes water.
‘My shoes were actually sticking to the carpet,’ she says. ‘But the staff were too busy doing admin to go to the assistance of residents who had clearly soiled themselves.’
In Hampshire, she visited another home that had recently been taken over by Southern Cross.
‘There was a lovely garden there which they had immediately sold off to a developer — just keeping back a narrow strip of grass for the residents. But in fact, the strip of grass was inaccessible to residents in wheelchairs.’
How it should be: An elderly lady reads a magazine while talking to her carer in an old people's care home
More generally, she speaks about the look of desperation and the pleading in the eyes of many residents she sees.
‘They just want a bit of human kindness,’ she says. ‘But the big private companies think they can make a killing from care homes. Kindness doesn’t come into it.
‘If the residents are very lucky, they will have very good staff working against the odds to do the impossible. But the average staff do what they are meant to do in the time they are paid for and go home, resulting in widespread neglect.’
Last year, Southern Cross admitted negligence after a patient at its Oakland care home in Rochdale, Lancashire, died in agony after developing chronic bed sores which were ignored by staff.
At the heart of such stories, insists Eileen, is the fact that ‘profit and care do not mix’. ‘The current situation is scandalous,’ she says. ‘The Government has to take responsibility for the British care system and not simply prop up a rotten one.’
The outrage is, of course, that a 52-year-old housewife has had to take up the issue of the scandal of the nation’s care homes while regulatory bodies with multi-million-pound budgets are seemingly paralysed by their own red tape.
Despair: But Eileen Chubb is determined to continue her fight
Last month, the Care Quality Commission announced it was spending nearly £250,000 on seven new posts — including a ‘digital communications content manager’ and ‘technical web developer’. A spokesman for the quango claimed the roles were needed to ‘ensure good communications with the 25,000-plus health and social care organisations we regulate and respond to questions from the media’.
Such news leaves Eileen, who has just £900 in the bank and works on and off as a cleaner to make ends meet, wringing her hands in despair.
‘These people are disconnected from their own humanity,’ she says. ‘Common sense has gone out of the window.’
What Britain needs, she says, is a state-run, accountable care system with a regulatory body made up of care workers, doctors and former whistleblowers. ‘People with morals — not fat cats,’ she adds.
Business Secretary Vince Cable has promised to investigate the business models of private companies running care homes. In fact, around 85 per cent of private care-home funding is paid for by local authorities and primary care trusts. Taxpayers’ money has been helping private care home companies make millions for years.
‘And what’s it buying?’ asks Eileen. ‘Vast amounts of taxpayers’ money is being wasted on poor care. Where’s the value for money?’
The entire industry, she points out, has become a tangled mess of interests. Even charities set up to protect the interests of the elderly are caught up in the quagmire.
Action On Elder Abuse receives money from Southern Cross. The Alzheimer’s Society receives money from BUPA, which also runs care homes for the elderly. Eileen refuses to take donations from either the care industry or the Government because she insists it would affect her ability to be impartial.
She has little time either for the Care Quality Commision which, she says, acknowledges receipt of the letters and reports she sends it, but takes no action.
‘At the end of the day,’ she says, ‘the Government has to look at this and say: “Is this the kind of care system we want for our elderly?” If we can’t look after the very people who have made this country then what does that say about us as a nation?’
Certainly, when experts are warning of a massive increase in the need for care home places in the next 20 years because of the rising numbers of over-85s in Britain, it seems that the current crisis will not be solved any time soon.
In the meantime, Eileen plans to carry on in her role as self-appointed vanguard of the elderly and vulnerable. Her current tally of visited care homes is 197.
‘I think a lot about that Dunkirk veteran I saw suffering — and others like him,’ she says. ‘The things he suffered — it can’t have been for nothing.’
Spot the psychopath:
American private equity firm The Blackstone Group, led by Stephen Schwarzman, bought Southern Cross, UK's biggest care-home company in 2004 for £162million and sold it three years later. It is believed to have quadrupled its investment