Mencap loses care deal after checks on homes

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The Independent Online
A top mental handicap charity has had its contract to run three community care homes cancelled amid concern over the well-being of residents.

North Birmingham Health Authority has given Mencap a month's notice that it is cancelling the pounds 263,000-a-year contract to care for 14 adult residents with learning difficulties following a spot visit.

Care for the residents is being taken over by the local community NHS Trust, but Mencap said yesterday it refuted the health authority's charge that residents received too little stimulation, spent too much time watching television and were given too little opportunity for social activities.

"We simply refute the charges," Kathy Harvey, the regional Mencap manager, said. "We are at a loss to know what is going on."

An inspection of the three linked homes last month by social services, just six weeks after the health authority's first visit in June, had given them a clean bill of health, she said. The charity is taking legal advice and may challenge the health authority's decision in the courts.

Les Clarke, director of quality for the health authority, said there was no suggestion of abuse or serious scandal at the homes.

The first unannounced visit had followed a complaint by a health professional caring for one of the residents, he said.

The subsequent investigation had revealed "a number of areas of concern which put together added up to unsatisfactory care". Some of the relationships with professional staff from the local community trust had also not been satisfactory, he said.

The original complaint had come from a staff member of the North Birmingham Community Health Trust which is to take over the contract - and which is in effect a competitor with Mencap for the contract in the new competitive world of NHS care. Nurses and therapists from the Trust had also been involved in assessing the care provided. But Mr Clarke insisted that "what they gave us was their professional opinion. Their advice was not commercially oriented and advice was sought from other professionals.

"Our task as the health authority purchaser is to make sure the residents are cared for properly, regardless of whether it is Mencap, an NHS Trust or some other organisation which provides the care."

Mencap released in full the social services inspection which speaks of relatives reporting "little miracles" in the development of residents. The homes had "a wide range of activities that clearly promote ability and a good quality of life. The units on the whole reflect a vibrant, stimulating environment and staff are to be congratulated".

The inspection report does note some issues may have "gone adrift" prior to April when the project was without a care manager for a period, but that the new manager was making "sterling efforts to continue in ensuring a quality service".