Posts Tagged ‘Des Kelly’

From 2001: Appalling Standards and Neglect at BUPA Care Home

February 1, 2015

I’ve put up several stories recently from Private Eye covering cases of the extremely low standards of care in private hospitals. As I’ve said before, these are important as the government is desperately trying to privatise the NHS under the assumption that private enterprise is more efficient than state provision. In their edition for the 30th November – 13 December 2001, the Eye ran this story about the abuse and neglect of patients in a BUPA care home in Kent.

Less Than Super-BUPA

While one of Bupa’s directors, Des Kelly, has been advising Tony Blair on care of the elderly, a Bupa care hom ein Kent has been at the centre of grave allegations of abuse and neglect.

Seven care workers who blew the whistle on a catalogue of cruelty, ill-treatment, doping with sedatives and the withholding of drugs and treatment at the £322-a-week Isard House in Bromley are due to be awarded compensation at employment tribunal this week.

Except that the seven – six women and one man – are boycotting the hearing and will refuse any payment from the UK’s biggest private health insurer and care provider. The reason? The careworkers say that though the tribunal found in their favour, it so diluted or ignored serious allegations and evidence that neither they – nor the vulnerable elderly people they sought to protect – have received justice, and they are challenging the tribunal’s decision in court.

The care workers are outraged that Bupa continued to employ the woman at the centre of the abuse against the subsequent advice of social services inspectors, at one stage trying to conceal the fact from them that she was working at a different vulnerable old people’s home. Bupa also promoted another, who is to face further allegations from the daughter of a resident who has recently been removed from the home.

The whistleblowers allege that Bupa has effectively been let off the hook.

They catalogued a series of abuse which went unchecked for nearly a year up to April 1999 within unit three at Isard House, which houses the most mentally and physically frail. Many suffer dementia, are unable to voice their concerns or needs and are dependent on carers for their most basic daily needs. They were hit, roughly handled, shouted and sworn at, goaded and verbally humiliated. They were left to lie or sit in their soiled clothing for to 18 hours. One developed dreadful sores. One man, R.H., had to search for staff on other units to change his catheter bag, which was overflowing and causing him immense pain.

In one of the worst examples a woman, D.H., who had not been given laxatives, was found to have an impacted bowel. She was taken to hospital but never recovered from pneumonia. Another was so overdosed on the tranquiliser Largactil she became unconscious.

Some of the staff had been regularly reporting concerns of cruelty and neglect to senior managers at the home and had been assured matters would be dealt with. In particular they were concerned that the unit’s team leader had bizarrely taken up residence in the unit, and seemed to control and encourage its punitive and cruel culture.

One of the whistleblowers, Eileen Chubb, was assured that evidence was being gathered in order to deal with this woman. When it became evident that nothing was happening and that the neglect was continuing unchecked, she and another worker, Karen Hook, went to Bromley social service inspectors.

An inquiry was launched and police were called in; but, partly because of the lapse of time and the difficulties of interviewing mentally and physically helpless old people, criminal charges were not considered. Once word spread around the home that complaints had been made and the team leader at the centre temporarily suspended, however, the whistleblowers say they were ostracised and bullied by other staff. They went off sick with stress. Shortly after they had a meeting with Mr Kelly in which they detailed their catalogue of concern and upon which they were convinced he would act.

Er … except that as their later industrial tribunal, lawyers for Bupa maintained that not only were the whistleblowers’ complaints unfounded, but they knew them to be false – ignoring the fact that they were risking their jobs when they went to social services.

Bupa maintained this defence despite a damning report into the home produced by Bromley’s inspection team. After a long investigation it described how the team leader had effectively moved into the home, using it “inappropriately for her recreational purposes” and how she was “primarily responsible for allowing the climate of abuses and neglectful behaviour to exist unchecked”.

It also detailed a string of incidents – ranging from wiping a resident’s face with a flannel with faecal material on it; inappropriate restraint of residents causing bruising; residents left in urine-soaked clothing; dosing patients with sedatives “for which there is no evidence of GP authorisation” and not giving them laxatives “with the possible outcome of distress and discomfort and indicating a disregard of residents’ needs.”

It concluded: “there are a significant number of witnesses amongst care staff, relatives and others who have been interviewed and who corroborate the original allegations … inappropriate behaviour towards them did occur in the manner suggested by the witnesses who have come forward and those subsequently interviewed.”

It condemned the lack of skilled staff on the unit, the long hours they worked and recommended a full investigation with appropriate disciplinary action. It is understood that because the inquiry team found that the abuse and failures were confined to unit three, and the bulk of the other residents in the home were well cared for, there was no recommendation to shut Isard House down because it would have caused too much distress to many residents who were settled and content. The aim was to clean up the act on unit three.

But at the tribunal the findings of the inspectorate were also challenged by Bupa. According to the tribunal findings, Mr Kelly had conducted disciplinary hearings against four staff named in the report – and in particular against the team leader. He found her explanations to be “entirely reasonable” . According to the tribunal report, Mr Kelly decided there was nothing in her response which he felt would constitute gross misconduct.

Despite its assertions at the tribunal, Bupa’s Claire Cater told the Eye it accepted there were issues that were wrong on unit three and steps were taken to correct them, including the immediate suspension of the team leader. “The issue has always been to what degree,” she said. “The inspection was long and drawn out and unhelpful. We did not get the witness statements for 14 months. Our own internal investigations revealed two different groups of people saying very different things. We went through everything and where we found things were far from ideal – for example with the regime for administering and recording drugs – we acted.”

She said Bupa’s job had also been made more difficult because of the “inconsistencies” in the statements of the whistleblowers. Some of the more serious allegations, regarding the safety of clients, had not been made in their original statements to inspectors but had come a year later. Bupa had a duty to test these inconsistencies to find out exactly what had happened, she said. The tribunal had found there had been some “exaggeration” in a few of the allegations, although it accepted they had been made in good faith.

She said the social services report indicated that the team leader should be demoted and retrained, but not dismissed. (However, a statement from Richard Turner of the inspectorate team says he contacted Mr Kelly at his home and by phone when he heard the woman was to be re-employed saying “it was unacceptable firstly because she was on bail with regard to allegations of theft and secondly that in our view she was implicated in both abuse and neglectful behaviour”.)

Bupa admits that staff member at one of the homes had panicked and tried to hide the fact that she had been re-deployed by tippexing her out of the rota. The inspectorate said: “The issue of tampering with records reflected on the fitness of senior Bupa managers and that employer her in a another home for the mentally elderly infirm was a ‘breach of statutory regulations’.

According to the whistleblowers, it was this woman’s reinstatement which led them finally to resign. The employment tribunal rejected this claim, suggesting that a six-week delay between learning of her reemployment and quitting their jobs meant it could not be the “final straw” as they protested. However, this was one of several tribunal findings that the whistleblowers hope to challenge. They maintain the delay came because they hoped Bromley social services inspectors would intervene as they had before.

What concerned the whistleblowers most was that while the tribunal found it credible “that incontinent residents might not be changed quickly and a culture had built up of not changing residents promptly”, the tribunal did not find it credible that residents would be neglected to the extent that they became “filthy and sore”. Yet the whistleblowers have the care plan of one resident showing that she had a sore which went through to the bone.

In another instance the tribunal accepted that while drugs sheets revealed that medication may not have been properly administered and/or the recording was deficient, it ignored evidence suggesting records may also have been falsified. (The Eye has several examples of drug sheets, indicating they have been fabricated.)

The seven whistleblowers have asked the lord chancellor’s department to investigate their claim that dozens of pieces of evidence presented to the tribunal – in particular the evidence other independent witnesses – have been overlooked. They have also filed for judicial review alleging bias and misconduct on the part of the tribunal, saying they did not get a fair hearing. It could be argued that it is not the role of an industrial tribunal to uncover levels of abuse. However, once Bupa decided to brand the whistleblowers as liars, they maintain the tribunal should have evaluated all the evidence. hence their decision not to attend and to try to block the compensation hearing. Eileen Chubb told the Eye: “We cannot fathom why Bupa would want to continue to employ abusers. We went to court firstly for a declaration of the truth of what was going on in that home – and secondly for compensation. We will not accept compensation if the price to be paid is the truth.”

As a result of events in Isard House, she and Karen Hook have now set up the non-profit making Compassion in Care, which will publish a handbook for families on what to look for in a care home and how to keep elderly relatives safe. They fund it by working as office cleaners at night. But some good may yet come of the tribunal hearing. As a result of its scrutiny of drug and medical records, Kent police have been re-examining the drug sheets and it is understood a file has been sent to the DPP.

What is of concern is not just the poor standard of care and abuse of the residents at the care home, but the fact that BUPA appeared more concerned with its reputation and discrediting the whistleblowers than in improving the standards in the home. It should also be a matter of real concern that BUPA’s director, Des Kelly, was advising the government’s health policy at the time the abuse was occurring, and was involved in an attempts to cover up the abuse and discredit the whistleblowers.

The Eye subsequently published many more stories of abuse and neglect at care homes, and there will be more still if the government goes ahead to privatise and deregulate the NHS and care homes still further.