Northern Ireland

Cherry Tree House nursing home report findings accepted by RQIA

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Media captionThe report into Cherry Tree House nursing home heavily criticised health regulators, the RQIA

Northern Ireland's health regulator has said it accepts the findings of a report that criticised how it handled a complaint about a County Antrim nursing home.

The RQIA was criticised in the review into Cherry Tree House nursing home.

It found the Carrickfergus home consistently failed to comply with regulations and meet care standards.

The review was triggered after a whistleblower revealed issues with patient safety.

She said she felt vindicated by the report after previously saying her concerns were repeatedly ignored by health professionals.

The Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA)'s chief executive Glenn Houston said he fully accepted the review and would be considering it "very carefully".

He added that he had apologised to the whistleblower.

"I accept that this report identifies a number of shortcomings for us and in sending copies of the report out yesterday to the whistleblower and the families, I indicated to them in my letter, an apology for those shortcomings," he said.

"You're looking back over a period of perhaps almost ten years when there were different systems and structures in place," he said.

"I think the structures we have in place now are much more robust and will make sure that we do not have a repeat of the situation."

Mr Houston said there were eight inspectors covering 240 nursing homes in Northern Ireland and that he could "easily employ another eight" but in the "current financial climate that's unlikely".

'Waste of time'

According to the authors of the independent report, the RQIA should have taken a more rigorous approach with the owners of the nursing home.

The report also said the RQIA's failure to use the information presented to them led to fundamental aspects of care not being reported.

It recommended the RQIA appoint lay assessors and that the body needed to ensure proper employment controls were in place to prevent certain members of staff, whose actions have already been questioned, from being able to move freely between homes.

The independent team was also 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.

Health Minister Edwin Poots said he would be having conversations with the RQIA.

"If there are areas that the RQIA has identified it has a fundamental weakness in, then we'll want to assist them to ensure they have the teeth to ensure the care provided in each situation is of a high quality and standard," he said.

The minister also said it was important that any problems identified by the RQIA were acted upon and that "you don't go back a year later and the same problems exist or they haven't been resolved".

'No warning'

Elizabeth Calvert has been extremely critical of Cherry Tree House nursing home. She had been given no advance warning that her 88-year-old mother Olive Heylings had died when she went to visit her in 2011.

She told BBC Radio Ulster's Talkback programme on Wednesday that she believed her mother had just been "cast aside".

"One of the nurses said 'would you like to see her' and I said 'yes of course' thinking she was absolutely fine," she said.

Image caption Olive Heylings was a resident of Cherry Tree House

"She walked in first and then my husband walked in and he turned round to me and said 'Oh God, she's dead'.

"And that was the time I just broke down. It was awful, I had no warning."

Ms Calvert said she had not received an apology from Cherry Tree House and said she had no confidence in the RQIA who she said had just "brushed her complaint off".

"Something needs to be done. The food, hygiene, there were lots of people who needed toileting, including my mum, and she wasn't taken to the toilet a lot of the time," she added.

Mr Houston said he was "very sorry" that Ms Calvert felt the RQIA had not addressed her issues in the way she expected.

He also said he hoped the nursing home would give her an apology and say "I'm sorry, we got this wrong".

Persistent warnings

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

"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 confirmed 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 manager 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."

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