The deaths at Orchid View should not only shock and sadden us, but lead to anger that such a situation was allowed by staff, management, the owners Southern Cross, the Care Quality Commission and the social care system to develop.
Each of these players had a responsibility to those five older people who died in a home that was clearly not fit for purpose. Much attention is likely to focus on the acts or omissions of staff and it is right they should be called to account with their managers. But the responsibility for neglect in care homes runs like a vertical faultline through the system.
The financial situation of Southern Cross was doomed for various reasons, including its ill-advised sale and leaseback model, but many other care home owners struggle to keep their businesses afloat with the low fees offered by local authorities. This often leads to inadequate staffing levels and a situation in which abuse is more likely to occur and less likely to be detected.
Many local authorities have had to freeze or reduce the amount they pay care home owners because of the swingeing cuts in the grant they receive from central Government. There is also a clear responsibility on the part of the Care Quality Commission which knew Southern Cross was in severe financial difficulty and so should have closely monitored its homes to ensure corners were not being cut.
But the owners of Southern Cross will not be held accountable for the deaths of those five people who trusted their lives to the company’s care. This must change for the future. Age UK wants to see a new offence of corporate neglect introduced into the Care Bill currently working its way through the House of Commons. This would mean care home owners would be able to be held criminally responsible for allowing a culture of abuse or neglect to continue in their homes.
The tragic deaths at Orchid View must mark a turning point in our attitude to the care of older people.
Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director, Age UK