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Give families of care home residents stronger powers to complain, Government urged

Katie Morley
At present families must first address concerns to care homes themselves, before having their case heard by an ombudsman with no powers to enforce punitive compensation - Kirsty O'Connor

The Government is coming under pressure to overhaul the way complaints about care homes are dealt with after the family of a 95-year-old abuse victim waited four years for compensation.  

Last night competition watchdogs said the current system needed urgent reform and MPs described it as "unfit for purpose".

They called on Care Minister Matt Hancock, who is due to publish a green paper on reforming the care sector, to consider giving greater powers to relatives poorly treated by care homes.

At present families must first address concerns to care homes themselves, before having their case heard by an ombudsman with no powers to enforce punitive compensation.    

This newspaper today reveals a case of shocking abuse of a dementia patient at a care home in Cornwall, which is laid bare in a series of secret recordings taken in 2015.

Audio recordings obtained by the Daily Telegraph document shocking abuse of Betty, a 95-year-old care home resident with dementia back in 2015.

Her carers can be heard talking about having put soap in Betty's mouth as a punishment and refer to her as "minger", "disgusting little reprobate" and "horrible" while in her presence.

Despite the harrowing evidence and a police report concluding there were wider failings in the care home, her family have had their requests for compensation ignored for four years. Following the Daily Telegraph's involvement they have now been offered a six figure payout and written apology from the home's management, which has since changed hands. 

Former Care Minister, Norman Lamb MP, said Betty's case showed the need for a stronger mechanism for families to have their complaints heard. He said: "There are a whole load of horrors that go on in the care sector and public policy needs to be aimed at how you avoid those things happening in the first place. 

"In the financial world, the lack of a proper complaints system makes amoral people cavalier about what they do and how they behave, and the same sort of thinking could apply in the care home sector.

"One might hope that also the existence of such a body might act as an incentive to avoid problems in the first place, might have impact of improving quality of care as people would know there would be consequences if things did go wrong."  

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Labour MP Dr Rosena Allin-Khan, who is campaigning for care home reform after finding her own 76-year-old father bruised and bleeding in a home, said: "It’s absolutely unacceptable for companies to operate in an irresponsible manner, and they’re getting away with it because the current complaints system is simply not fit for purpose. 

"So often families have to report down a line of people whereby the perpetrators will be responsible for what's happened. Often people don't know where to go. The whole system needs a complete overhaul."

A CMA spokesman said: “Our in-depth study of the care homes market found that residents and their families often find it difficult to make complaints, or worry about the consequences of raising concerns at all.

“It is essential that there are effective systems in place for people to complain and, where necessary, have concerns about charges and services acted upon. That’s why we called on regulators to take a greater role in protecting residents and hold care homes to account where needed.”  

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Abuse of vulnerable people in care is abhorrent, and we’re determined to stop it.”

You can read more about Betty's story in the new Katie Morley Investigates column on p4 of the Money section in tomorrow's paper