More than 2,000 staff have called a national whistleblowing hotline with warnings of abuse and neglect in care homes and hospitals in its first six months.
The volume of calls surprised officials at the Care Quality Commission, England's health and social care watchdog, which set up the hotline in the wake of the scandal at Winterbourne View, the care home in Bristol, where abuse of its learning disabled residents was exposed by the BBC Panorama programme in May.
The CQC was criticised last week by the National Audit Office for overloading inspectors with paperwork and running a tick-box culture rather than checking actual services. It was subject to its own episode of whistleblowing when two former senior executives claimed it operated a "bullying" culture in evidence to the Mid-Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust inquiry last month, and is also under review by the Department of Health. Cynthia Bower, the chief executive, is to appear before the powerful Commons Public Accounts Committee today to answer the criticisms.
Yesterday, plans to include relatives of residents on committees scrutinising standards in care homes and to publish an online ratings guide for care homes similar to TripAdvisor were announced by the Government.
Calls to the whistleblowing hotline, set up in June and staffed by a dedicated team of four trained staff, have already triggered a snap inspection at a home for people with learning disabilities in the North-west. The whistleblower alleged one resident was physically attacking other residents, including one victim who was unable to speak.
The CQC contacted the local authority who sent in inspectors. They found staff at the home had failed to protect the victims, had made inadequate attempts to curb their assailant's aggressive behaviour and had come to accept the level of abuse.
They also found the 30-bed home was in a poor state, strewn with rubbish and without hot water in the kitchen. Inspectors ordered immediate improvements backed up by a warning notice with the threat of closure. A repeat inspection was carried out last week.
A breakdown of the calls to the hotline, seen by The Independent, shows 2,239 were made between June and December. The vast majority, accounting for almost nine out of 10, were about social care organisations. The CQC is to issue guidance this week about whistleblowing, emphasising the responsibility of staff who see evidence of poor care, abuse or neglect to raise the alarm
A spokesperson said: "The volume of calls is higher than we anticipated and it is on a rising trend."
Evidence suggests staff are reluctant to whistleblow when they see evidence of poor care, possibly for fear of losing their jobs. In October, the Government announced changes to the NHS constitution to make it clear it is the duty of staff to report bad practice and to ensure staff who raised concerns about patients' care would be protected. But a survey of 3,000 members of the Royal College of Nursing, published last month, found nurses were more reluctant to report concerns and managers were less likely to act than in a similar survey conducted two years ago. The CQC found a similar reluctance among social care staff during its national programme of inspections of homes for people with learning disabilities launched last summer, after the Winterbourne View scandal.
There were piles of rubbish and holes in walls...
Inspectors alerted by a caller to the CQC's whistleblowing hotline found a dismaying scene when they visited a 30-bed home for people with learning disabilities in the North-west.
There were piles of rubbish everywhere, holes in the walls, the floors needed repairing and there was no shower curtain in a bathroom. There was also no hot water in the kitchen.
Inspectors found a pile of incident forms with details of assaults carried out by one resident on two others, but it was not clear if any of these had been referred to the local authority, as required by law.
The manager of the home was ordered to take immediate steps to protect the two victims from further assaults. The lack of hot water was reported to the local environmental health officer. The home is still under review.
Called to account: hotline in numbers
Number of calls to whistleblowing service in its first six months
Percentage of calls that were about care homes
Number of calls in June...
...compared to the number of calls in November – a rise of 90 per cent