Health

Care homes ban relatives who complain

An elderly woman's hand on a walking stick

Hundreds of care homes are banning relatives from visiting elderly residents over complaints about quality of care, the BBC's Victoria Derbyshire programme has learned.

A Somerset care home prevented a man from visiting his 93-year-old father.

And the children of a woman in a home in Essex say she was evicted after they made a complaint.

The care homes said they had investigated the issues raised by the families.

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) says that in response to the BBC's investigation, it has released new information for families.

'Deeply upsetting'

Paul Doolan says he was banned from visiting the care home in Somerset where his elderly father Terry lived, because he complained about the quality of care.

Terry Doolan had cancer, was registered blind, needed hearing aids and used a wheelchair.

The ban meant Paul could meet his father only at a restaurant, with a chaperone, a situation Paul describes as "deeply upsetting".

He says one of his complaints was that on weekly visits, he rarely found his father's hearing aids to be working.

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionPaul Doolan was told to 'cease visits' by his father's carers

"I had limited time when I'd go in to see Dad," Paul says.

"And because his hearing aids weren't working properly, because his batteries had run out or they weren't clean, it took me a quarter of an hour to sort this out [and] to start speaking properly to him.

"For the rest of the week, when I wasn't there, he probably sat in total silence and... stimulation was very important."

"The care home fees were fairly hefty, and I thought it was the least they could do to make sure he could hear properly and give him some fresh air and take him to the doctors."

After visiting his father at the home for three years, Paul was eventually sent an email in August 2012, saying he would have "to cease visits" with immediate effect.

It also accused him of demonstrating unacceptable behaviour towards the staff.

'Grey area'

He says he did not receive any prior warnings and disputes "completely" that he behaved badly.

Terry was eventually moved to another care home, and died three months later.

A spokeswoman for the care home said in a statement: "I can confirm that during the time in question, the home followed all regulations set by CQC [Care Quality Commission] and all guidelines set by our local authority."

Jemma Garside, of Duncan Lewis solicitors, says she regularly sees cases similar to that of the Doolans,

"People would be surprised to know that being in a care home is not the same as being in a normal home," she says.

"You have a contract with the care home, the resident and public body if they're funding it.

"The care home sets the terms and the conditions, and you have to obey them."

What is the cost of care in your area?

Your browser is not supported. Visit summary page.

Former care worker Eileen Chubb campaigns for better regulation of the care industry.

She says she hears from 50 to 60 families a year in a similar position to the Doolans, and that number is increasing.

"Some people raise a concern, and when it's not dealt with and they raise a concern a second time, they're seen as serial complainers," she says.

"That seems to be a tactic that's used against families who are raising genuine concerns.

"The balance of power is totally weighed against the relative - raising concerns, and whatever the care home says is taken at face value by all of the authorities.

"So the relatives and the residents are the people with the least power, and it's a major part of the problem."

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionAngela Eastman and her brother Mervyn have had to find a new home for their mother

Angela and Mervyn Eastman say their mother, Careena, 86, was evicted from an Essex nursing home because they lodged a single formal complaint about poor care.

Careena had Alzheimer's disease and was moved into the home in 2013.

The Eastmans say the home failed to adequately treat a gash on Careena's leg.

And they finally made their formal complaint in September 2014, after residents who displayed aggressive behaviour had been moved into the same area as their mother - with neither residents nor relatives being informed beforehand.

But 48 hours later, the home responded, saying it had "thoroughly investigated" their complaint and could not "deal with family needs" or "Careena's needs".

The letter said Careena had been given "notice to quit" the home, and must leave "within 28 days".

Mervyn calls it "an excuse" and "disproportionate".

He says: "Why do we raise a complaint and you find your mum is on four weeks' notice to leave, a very vulnerable mum who's been traumatised?"

With the help of the local authority, Careena is now living at a new home.

A spokesman for the care home said it had a duty of care "to ensure that we are always able to meet individuals' needs, and where we cannot, we are compelled to make unenviable and difficult decisions to ensure that the individual is supported to relocate to a service where their needs can be best met."

Image copyright PA
Image caption Care England says it would be 'useful' for the CQC to keep track of incidents

This had been the case with Mrs Eastman, he added.

The spokesman also pointed out the home had been rated as good by the CQC in its two most recent inspections.

The CQC's Andrea Sutcliffe told the BBC: "Care homes are people's homes. They, their family and friends should not live in fear of being penalised for raising concerns.

"We have published information to clarify people's rights and our expectations of providers so that people living in care homes, their family and friends can be more confident that their concerns will be listened to and acted upon by providers responsible for delivering safe, compassionate and high quality care."

Prof Martin Green, of Care England, which represents many independent care services, says it would be "useful" if the CQC could keep track of how many incidents there are of relatives being prevented visits following complaints, and of residents being asked to leave.

"There may be times residents' conditions change and that nursing home isn't the appropriate place to give that person the right care," he says.

One former care home worker said that in eight years, he had seen only one case of relatives being banned.

The worker, who did not want to be named, told the BBC that the ban came after the family was aggressive and fault-finding - on one occasion a family member had taken photos of a creased bed-sheet.

He said staff at the home believed the family's behaviour - which over time had made the manager ill - had been down to guilt for not caring for their relative or resentment over the care costs.

"It was actually a very good home and they were unquestionably the relatives from hell," he concluded.

The Victoria Derbyshire programme is broadcast on weekdays between 09:00 and 11:00 on BBC Two and the BBC News Channel.

More on this story