Privatisation of Social Care - What would you do?

Speaking from experience nothing is more painful than seeing your own mother having to go into a care home. The feelings of guilt and fear are intense. Leaving strangers to look after your mother is very scary. This happened to me two weeks ago after a nightmare 12 months I had to witness my mother move into a care home.

I am a social worker so I have been on the other side, supporting service users and their families, but nothing prepares you for when it happens to someone close to you.

"Why am I talking about this?"

There are many reasons. We are living in an age on the brink. We have seen the ‘Fall and Rise of the Financial Empire’, bankers are back to their old ways paying out bonuses, the Coalition attempts to control their excesses have proved to be empty rhetoric. If I am honest at the moment I am sceptical that Labour would be any better (prove me wrong!).

We are on the brink of the dismantling of the Welfare State, something that was built at a time when we were in a far worse state than we are in now. Then we had politicians under pressure from citizens for a better future for their children. This was a time when public services began to develop and grow.

Now we are facing the destruction of public services, by that the opening up of privatisation of all public services. The Private sector companies increasing those based outside of the UK are chomping at the bit to take on lucrative contracts. Profits will be made out of public services.

There are many who see this as progressive, modernising but many more know and understand the private sector is in it for the profits first and their exploitation of public sector management is now legendary. How many more times must we hear about project overspends, poor procurement, councils trapped in partnerships with the private sector that don’t deliver the savings promised. This is public money, this YOUR money.

Earlier this week we heard that already £79 billion of public money is tied up in contracts with the private sector. There is no scrutiny or oversight of these arrangements, the audit trail is stopped by the words ‘commercial confidentiality’.

I have a view, ‘if the private sector want to deliver public services then they have to open their books for public scrutiny, if not take a hike!’

The bankers took £1,3 trillion of public money and have shown to be unrepentant, the coalitions governments privatisation plans of the public money is presenting the private sector with unrestricted, unregulated access to £billions of public money.

In Barnet, recently we have seen a catastrophic failure of the commissioning model for older peoples services that has cost the tax payer and exposed residents, services users and staff to exposure to Legionella bacteria.

Read on.

Background information to the privatisation of former Council care homes.

Barnet Council, 23 October 2000 approved the selection of Ealing Family Housing Association (now part of the Catalyst Group) to take a transfer of the majority of the Council’s elderly persons residential care homes and day centres on the basis that these would be replaced with modern purpose built facilities and achieve an ongoing revenue saving for the Council from the commencement of the contract.

Cabinet Resources Committee, 3 September 2007 noted the disagreement with Catalyst in respect of its Deficit Claim and also agreed that the dispute with Catalyst in respect of the Perryfields/Claremont Road and Merrivale/Child Guidance Centre sites swaps agreements, and the Project and Abortive Costs claims arising there from, be referred to arbitration and/or independent expert as appropriate.

Fast forward to Cabinet Resources Commitee 2 March 2011.

The Council lost the case at the Arbitration Court.

The cost of the claim and associated costs has been significant and can be summarised as follows:

Final Award to Catalyst (incl interest and costs) £8.674m

Council’s final estimated legal costs £2.000m

Outstanding issues (land swaps) £0.110m

Total cost £10.784m

Legal costs paid in previous years (£1.660m)

Provision for deficits since April 2007 £0.046m

Provision Required £9.170m

The total cost has been offset slightly by net income from Catalyst of £532,000 in respect of overbillings and the Single Status agreement which was agreed early in the Arbitration process by both parties legal teams. Hence, the resultant cost to the Council has been £10.252m.

£10.252m, that’s right £10.252m of public money on a contract that was supposed to (rewind back to 2000) ‘achieve an ongoing revenue saving for the Council’

Under the Equalities section it says:

The referral of the deficit claim to arbitration has not affected the residential and day care services being provided to older people. The service is inclusive and provided to all older people eligible for residential care or requiring day care. There are specialist units for people who have dementia, people who have learning disabilities and a unit for Asian people. However, any substantive changes to the care home contract for the provision of day care and / or residential care will be subject to a full equalities impact assessment.

“What has happened since this report was published?”

Three weeks ago our members working in Fremantle Care homes were told there had been a Legionella outbreak in two of the care homes Apthorpe and Dellfield Court. Our members received minimal information. Our union wrote to Fremantle asking a number of questions to which we have yet to receive a reply.

Barnet UNISON issued a number of questions and a petition calling for an independent inquiry.

Our questions are as follows:

1. When and where in each of the affected homes did they discover Legionella bacteria?

2. Have any residents/service users, staff, or members of the public contracted Legionnaires disease to date?

3. Who is responsible for monitoring the safety of the water supply in these settings?

1.    Is it Barnet Council

2.    Is it Catalyst Housing?

3.    Is it Fremantle

4.    Is it another organisation?

4. When was the last time each setting was checked and who has the records?

5. Does Barnet Council include issues like Health & Safety in the contract monitoring process? If not why not? If yes when were these last reviewed?

6. Are risk assessments on health & safety carried out in all of the settings?

7. As part of the contract monitoring by Barnet Council are these risk assessments reviewed? If not why not? If yes when were they last reviewed?

8. As part of good safeguarding practice have other residential care homes provided by Catalyst and Fremantle been informed about the outbreak and if so have the checks been carried out in those settings?

9. How was this allowed to happen?

10. What was the cause of this outbreak and what controls have been put in place to secure the safety of the residents, staff and visitors?

11. Was a risk assessment carried out after the Legionella bacteria was discovered? If yes, what did it say and what control measure were put in place? If not why not?

12. Have the carer’s/relatives of residents and service users using these services been informed that a ‘service improvement notice’ has been issued?

Since we launched the Petition we have learnt that Catalyst Housing Group have been issued an ‘improvement notice’ this action taken by the council indicates there seriousness of the situation and reinforces the need for an independent public inquiry.

“What is an improvement notice?”

Section 21 HSWA1 states that, where an inspector is of the opinion that a person is contravening one or more of the relevant statutory provisions, or has contravened one or more of those provisions in circumstances that make it likely that the contravention will continue or be repeated, s/he may serve an improvement notice. The notice should:

  • state that s/he is of that opinion;
  • specify the provision(s) in question;
  • give particulars of the reasons why s/he is of that opinion;
  • require the person to remedy the contravention or the matters occasioning it; and
  • specify the period for compliance, which should be not less than 21 days from the date of service of the notice, being the period in which the recipient of the notice may lodge an appeal with the employment tribunal.

“Just what is going on in these homes?”

I have worked in social services for over 20 years and in my opinion older peoples services are always undervalued, it says something about our society when you hear in discussions about social care and health needs for older people the words “burden as in burden on the state”.

Most of us will reach old age and most of us will develop physical and mental conditions which will require services. When that happens believe me, you will want to have a conscientious well trained member of staff caring for you. You will want your home to be a safe place to live and feel secure in the knowledge that someone is looking out for you.

My question to anyone who is reading this is “What would you do if your mother, father, close friend was living in a care home where there had been an outbreak of legionella?”

·         Would you want to know if it was safe to stay in the home?

·         Would you want to know how this happened?

·         Would you want to know who was responsible?

·         Would you want an independent inquiry?

If you answer yes to any or all of these questions then please sign our petition here and send a message of support to john.burgess@barnetunison.org.uk