Northern Ireland

Cherry Tree House did not meet 'minimum' standards of care, report finds

Cherry Tree House nursing home
Image caption The report also heavily criticised health regulators the RQIA

A County Antrim nursing home consistently failed to comply with regulations and meet minimum standards of care, an independent review has found.

The review into Cherry Tree House nursing home, in Carrickfergus, was triggered after a whistleblower revealed issues with patient safety.

She said her concerns were repeatedly ignored by health professionals.

Health regulators the RQIA were also heavily criticised in the report.

The report said the RQIA should have taken a more rigorous approach with the owners of Cherry Tree Nursing Home.

According to the authors of the report, the RQIA's failure to use the information presented to them led to fundamental aspects of care not being reported.

The report recommended the RQIA appoint lay assessors.

It also said the RQIA should ensure proper employment controls are in place to prevent certain members of staff, whose actions have already been questioned, from being able to move freely between homes.

The whistleblower, who first approached the BBC with her story in 2012, said she was delighted with the report.

Persistent warnings

"This is for all whistleblowers. I'm very happy with what the independent team has said."

The whistleblower who was a care worker at the home for several years eventually lost her job.

"I feel exhausted, but at last someone has listened to me. I'm delighted, it's thorough and hopefully it is the start of something bigger," she said.

The report vindicates the whistleblower's allegations including that her persistent warnings were repeatedly ignored, including by the regulator and managers in the home over several years.

The review team confirm that allegations of poor practice should have been acted on a lot sooner, especially on poor care standards, nutrition, staffing and continence care.

A statement from the owner of Cherry Tree Nursing Home, Jennifer Tracey, said: "The review into how the Department of Health, the Health and Social Care Board, health and social care trusts, and the RQIA handled any complaints or whistleblowing concerns about Cherry Tree House between 2005 and 2013 has indicated the need to strengthen and improve the current regulatory processes.

"While the report's recommendations do not deal with Cherry Tree House specifically, we recognise there is much in the report we can learn from and it provides useful insight into our own shortcomings.

"We will carefully study the entire document for the lessons we can take from it.

"In the meantime, we continue to be committed to working with our regulators to ensure we meet the standards our residents expect and deserve, and also to support stronger and improved regulatory processes, where they improve the nursing and residential home care for older people."

'Surprised'

The report also recommended that the RQIA consider how it can effectively ascertain the views of residents families and staff during inspections and that it should review its enforcement policy and procedures in light of developments in other jurisdictions.

The independent team was critical of some aspects of how the regulators carried out inspections, with some members of staff describing the practice of announced inspections as a waste of time.

Patient's First Northern Ireland, who represent whistleblowers, described the report as "extensive" but was critical that no one was held to account.

Spokesperson Aidan Hannah said: "We have been let down so many times in the past, that we are actually surprised that the report is so extensive.

"It supports the whistleblower in this case and is highly critical of the regulators.

"However no one is held to account. That is wrong. After all the whistleblower lost her job."

Stewart Dickson, an MLA for the area, said the report highlighted the need for reform of how nursing homes are regulated.

"The overwhelming number of recommendations shows the scale of reform that is required to ensure that we have robust inspection procedures and enforcement mechanisms in place," he said.

"The report directly refers to the system in Wales, which does not tolerate repeated failures affecting the care of nursing home residents."

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