Since the BBC's Panorama programme unveiled the care home abuse at Winterbourne View Hospital in Bristol in 2011, many recommendations have been made and a Care Bill, which is anticipated to come into force in 2015, is working its way through Parliament but the pace of change has been slow. While the Care Bill needs to be effective when it is eventually enacted, recent Press reports raise the crucial question of whether carers' attitudes and behaviour are really changing.
A national scandal erupted as it was revealed that a former nurse had tried to raise his concerns over abuses at the Hospital, including reporting them to the regulator, the Care Quality Commission (CQC), but was ignored. Numerous investigations and reports followed. Eleven members of staff at Winterbourne View were eventually prosecuted and care abuses were revealed elsewhere in the country.
A series of reports in The Daily Telegraph have highlighted that some vulnerable people are being denied their fundamental care needs in care homes including food and drink, and basic hygiene thus increasing their risk of life-threatening infection. The newspaper reported (2 December 2013) that it has obtained data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealing that the number of elderly people dying from septicaemia in care homes increased by nearly 50% between 2003 and 2012 to over 1,100. This excludes those with the condition who were transferred to hospitals and died there. The Chief Executive of UK Sepsis Trust described that low staffing levels and poor training of carers result in an increase in the risk of infection that can lead to sepsis. Poor hygiene also plays a role.
Only the previous day (1 December 2013), the same newspaper revealed shocking statistics that the ONS records that a total of 1,158 care home residents died of dehydration and more than 300 of malnutrition between 2003 and 2012. Nearly 3,000 deaths in the same period were linked to bed sores. The figures are truly shocking and, despite the current Care Bill, have led to urgent calls to overhaul the whole care system.
Commenting on the reports, Andrew Clayton, associate in Penningtons Manches' clinical negligence team: "These news reports raise serious concerns that, despite the high profile attention over recent years, there remain fundamental problems in the standard of care received by these vulnerable people. Sadly, these statistics fit with our experience where we have dealt with a number of cases involving death of elderly patients as a result of a lack of basic care provision.
"With political calls for community care to provide the solution to much of the burden currently falling on our A&E departments, there must be real concern that the community care system is not up to that task. Real focus needs to be applied to improve not only its funding but also the education and attitudes of those involved. Otherwise, we risk swapping the crisis in A&E for another crisis in community care. An improved regulatory regime must be the safety net and not relied on as the solution. Improved care on the ground for vulnerable people has to be the true test of whether the last two and a half years since the Panorama programme have had any real effect."