BBC BLOGS - Chris Jackson's Blog

Archives for March 2012

Elderly care top of the news agenda again

Chris Jackson | 17:33 UK time, Friday, 16 March 2012

Anonymous shot of elderly person's hand on walking stick

I woke up this morning to yet more shocking failures in care of the elderly in our country. I'm scared to say I'm almost immune to it now.

The latest Which? report catalogues a series of problems which to my ears are all too familiar.

You'll know that Inside Out over the past couple of years has been at this subject like a dog with a bone.

When we first uncovered serious and repeated lapses in the care of residents at Southern Cross homes we were deluged with complaints from others. They told us the lack of dignity and proper care afforded to their relatives was much more widespread than even we had reported.

In our last series we turned our attention to care of the elderly in one of our local hospitals and the same thing happened. As soon as our report hit the airwaves we received another rush of emails and letters raising yet more instances of poor care.

Now this latest report based on diaries kept by the elderly themselves shows there are similar common problems in the care provided to those still living in their own homes. Meals and drinks placed out of reach, people ending up soiling themselves, rushed or inadequate care. The same issues are cropping up in this sector too.

If it's been happening in care homes, in hospitals and even in people's own homes, it can't just be down to a few rogue nursing staff or health visitors. There has got to be something seriously wrong in how we as a society view the elderly.

A recent consultation document offered a way forward, although some of its recommendations bordered on blatant common sense.

We all have a vested interest in sorting this out. Those of us that make it to a ripe old age will be using these services. We will be the customers of the future so no wonder the Consumers' Association decided to investigate.

I recently received an email questioning whether our reporting of the problems in care of the elderly reflected the real scale of the problem. Today's Which? report would tend to suggest, if anything, we didn't cast our net wide enough.

Being held to account means answering questions in person

Chris Jackson | 16:45 UK time, Monday, 5 March 2012

Southern Cross sign

On Monday's programme (Monday, 5 March 2010, 19:30 GMT, BBC One) we are catching up with some of our recent stories to let you know what happened next.

Among them Southern Cross. We are proud of the fact we were exposing shortcomings at the care home provider long before it collapsed.

However because of a pending trial we couldn't tell you about the awful abuse of elderly residents at the company's St Michael's View home in South Shields. The home is now under new management.

The case followed a police investigation into the home back in 2010. The judge made stinging criticisms of the failures within Southern Cross, but the case also cast light on how "the system" didn't spot them.

We approached, South Tyneside Council's social services department, the local NHS Trust, the Care Quality Commission (the new body that absorbed the original inspection body at the time of the incidents) and a former Southern Cross regional manager - all declined to be interviewed about this specific case.

They did issue statements, but on a major story of such public interest it is surprising that not one of them was willing to answer questions in person. An independent review is being carried out so we await the outcome with interest.

With the care and dignity of the elderly in care such a hot topic I leave it to you to decide whether this anonymised response is acceptable in the circumstances.

On a wider view; I've been a journalist for more than 25 years and have seen huge changes in how services for the public good are run.

As a thrusting trainee reporter I was used to ringing the local water or electricity board, British Rail, health authority or council to set up an interview. Even though I was a young trainee, those who took my call responded as dutiful public servants with an innate sense of obligation that they should be held accountable.

Back then no one really knew what a spin doctor was, nor was there even a hint that public information was there to be spun.

Alastair Campbell and Peter Mandelson notoriously turned it into an art form - some say the dark arts. You can't turn the clock back, don rose tinted glasses and plead for a return to the "good old days". I certainly wouldn't want to.

If you go back far enough, journalists were to blame for a lack of public accountability. The profession was deferential to those in authority in the most cringeworthy manner.

Apocryphal or not it brings to mind an interviewer timidly asking "would the minister care to share his thoughts with a grateful nation" or some such nonsense rather than asking anything challenging with a view to unearthing the truth.

None of us are naïve any more. Journalists and press officers alike understand the power and influence of today's media. Our job is to probe, I'll let you decide what the others' role is but a clue is to be found in my contacts book. Some people who used to be known as press officers now bear the title "reputation manager".

'to call to account'.
Concise Oxford Dictionary definition: "require an explanation from (a person)".

Noticeable too is an apparent trend for public bodies to resist putting people up for interview to respond in person to criticism or complaint.

A statement, no matter how detailed, does not allow for such carefully worded responses to be further probed and tested face-to-face. If someone doesn't answer the question you can put it to them again, and the public can judge the integrity of the response.

Ironically some of the privatised services, such as water, electricity and trains seem in my personal experience to be quicker and more eager to put their Chief Exec or expert up for questioning when things go awry.

Perhaps the way to judge the state of public accountability these days is to spot how many times a real person is put before the cameras and microphones when it's good news and how many times when it's bad.

Contact details:, twitter: @insideoutcj, facebook

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.