Two in three private care homes 'unsafe'

Vulnerable people more likely to receive poor care in private institutions than in NHS, says report

People with learning disabilities in privately run institutions are twice as likely to receive unsafe and poor quality care compared with the NHS, a damning report has revealed.

Only one in three private hospitals and homes inspected by the regulator was providing acceptable standards of care and adequately protecting vulnerable residents from abuse, compared with two thirds of NHS institutions.

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) found one person who had been languishing in a so-called assessment and treatment centre for 17 years. Five- to seven-year stays were not uncommon in places meant to provide short-term solutions. But again the private sector came out worst with patients more likely to have been stuck in the same institution for two or more years.

The programme of unannounced inspections was carried out in the wake of abuse uncovered by the BBC's Panorama programme at the privately-run Winterbourne View hospital, near Bristol.

But the CQC report provides no satisfactory explanation about why people with learning disabilities are receiving worse care in profit-focused organisations, which charge as much as £5,000 per week. The CQC chair, Dame Jo Williams, said services across all sectors were failing people and that the NHS, local authorities and private providers all needed to do better.

Care Services minister Paul Burstow last night told The Independent that several of the planned changes, published yesterday in the Government's interim report into the Winterbourne View scandal, would address the poor performance of the private sector.

Better data, clearer guidelines and improved contracts between commissioners and private providers were among the changes which would help eradicate these unacceptable long-term institutions, said Mr Burstow.

Overall the picture was grim, nearly half the 145 hospitals and care homes inspected nationwide by the CQC did not meet required standards of care. This means 869 vulnerable people were in hospitals and homes failing to comply with minimum standards.

Almost a fifth of institutions were referred to social services for urgent assessment, after specific concerns were either uncovered by inspectors or disclosed by a resident or relative.

The use of physical restraint caused concern in a quarter of the services visited as many carers did not properly understand, record or monitor its use.

But Dame Jo said her inspectors found no evidence of abuse on the scale uncovered at Winterbourne View. They found bad organisational cultures rather than bad individual staff, the CQC said.

Undercover footage from Winterbourne View showed staff taunting and abusing the vulnerable adults in their care. Since then nine "carers" have pleaded guilty to the ill treatment of residents; two others face trial in August.

The CQC is now considering changing its inspection regime to include weekends and evenings to capture more reliable information about what life is like for people, often stuck hundreds of miles from "home".

However, family carer Julie Thorpe, who also contributed to the inspections, questioned some of the standards.

She said: "From discussions with other carers, we often found that homes that were non-compliant were the best for what we were looking for – the way we saw people being treated, the general loving, caring atmosphere. "

Dame Jo said the report had been sent to the NHS chief executive, Sir David Nicholson.

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