I haven’t seen the Panorama programme about care home abuse because I have long given up on the BBC’s news and current affairs output. However, I shall make a point of watching it on iPlayer – and I’ll even try to avoid carping about the fact that Panorama could have made this programme some time ago when whistleblowers and Private Eye first alerted us to the problems in care homes and the deceptions and failures of the Care Quality Commission (CQC). It is amazing how the ‘balanced’ BBC’s focus changes according to the colour of our government.
For those of you who are not Private Eye subscribers, the magazine has been alleging that the CQC has effectively surrendered standards’ monitoring to the care homes themselves. When inspections are made, they are pre-announced. It has also been claimed that the CQC has been falsifying accounts of its actions; from memory, seven allegedly inadequate homes were claimed to have been shut down by the CQC but all or most had simply undergone a change of name before continuing business as usual with a clean record sheet from the CQC.
The care homes are bad enough but the CQC is an utter disgrace – as, indeed, most of our Kafkaesque regulatory system seems to be (I look forward to blogging about my soul-destroying experiences with the Local Government Ombudsman at some point in the future). The whole quango merryground seems little more than a front for cosy sinecures to be awarded to failed politicians and their assorted brown-nosers: the regulatory variety serve little purpose but to fog, distort and delay issues indefinitely – or until the faults become so big that they can no longer be hidden. FSA and the banks anyone?
And to what extent are the failings at the CQC driven by the blind cult of political correctness? Both the Chair and the Chief Executive of CQC are women: are they there on merit (here’s a clue – it seems unlikely!), are they party apparatchiks or do they satisfy some useless quota? And why is it that the care workers are on minimum wage in the private sector while the inspectorate is handsomely catered for in the state sector? Don’t the arguments about competitive pricing and greater efficiency/effectiveness apply to inspection? They certainly don’t seem to apply to quangos.
For all the faults lower down the chain, the real villain of this piece is the political system itself, paying lip-service to the needs of the vulnerable – and their families – while destroying their autonomy and placing them into an environment motivated by profit rather than care: we all want value for our taxes but value is never assessed on cost alone.
We know that the politicians and mandarins read Private Eye – they are quick enough to correct any perceived slight it publishes. From reports in the press, we also understand that families have raised these issues with MPs to no avail. So why have politicians not acted on these allegations before? Politicians are meant to represent us – and that includes the residents of care homes and their families – and yet they have ignored the problem until now. Was there not the time in between filling in their expense forms to take a few minutes to ask a few questions? The fact that Private Eye has continued to make the allegations with no apparent threat of a defamation action would surely suggest that they have some substance? How many politicians have even visited care homes in their constituencies for other than election purposes?
Sadly, I suspect that most of us – with considerable justification – anticipate that the outcome will be a whitewash. A few care workers will lose their jobs – some may be prosecuted for assault: maybe the Chair of the CQC will be obliged to resign and there will some faux contrition, lessons learned etc, etc to accompany a whole swathe of new regulations and checks aimed at the recruitment of care workers.
The fact that the fault lies in a blind eye being turned to existing regulation will be quietly elided from the record – just like those care home failures.