Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Ideology never allows reality to get in the way

(Or, why care homes no longer have to tell residents about complaints procedures, or offer a choice of food, or plan for emergencies)

In England there are at least two different ‘realities’ when it comes to adults experiencing abuse; adults that are very often old and frail.

Firstly, there is the reality of being abused or having a loved one abused. That often results in fear, anger, hurt and a need for justice. It is usually only at that point that people look at the systems for protection – regulation, inspection, intervention and criminal justice – and find them insufficient. They often feel that what they thought were robust systems are full of jargon and pious sentiments, but short on fairness, justice or consequences for the abusers. Sometimes, how they feel is unfair because – sometimes – it would have been impossible to stop the abuse or bring the abusers to justice. That is an unfortunate reality. But often, it is the system that is failing, and will continue to fail in the current climate. People not surprisingly become cynical and critical as a consequence, and usually end up being labeled as a problem. Don’t shoot the messenger is not a very strong guiding principle in this context.

Secondly, there is the reality that politicians and policy makers see. This is a world in which every frail person can make their own decisions and can control what they want and how they want it. This is a world in which support can always be given to help people make their own decisions, where empowerment, choice and control are the guiding aspirations. And this is a world in which there is no need to be prescriptive with care providers, because too much regulation restricts their ability to do good, kind things. The ‘light touch’ is empowering to better care.  Sometimes, this approach works and many individuals successfully reassert control over their lives, and many care providers seize the opportunity to do even better. But often, it doesn’t work like that. But in this world, ideology never allows reality to get in the way.

So, last week a little known Commons committee nodded through changes to the statutory regulations for care homes. The care and support minister, Norman Lamb, said (having) fewer rules would “strike a balance” between effective safeguarding and flexibility in the running of care organisations. Consequently, they removed the responsibility of a provider to tell residents about complaints procedures, the requirement to offer a choice of food, and the requirement to plan for and have in place emergency procedures. These deletions will apparently increase flexibility in the running of care (?)

Somewhat belatedly, the deletions received limited publicity (through David Brindle in The Guardian) and the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services suggested in response that there will really be no change, because these deleted requirements would continue to be expectations in any CQC inspection. An un-named Department of Health spokesperson quickly agreed stating that a care home resident must have their needs and preferences taken into account, for instance, they will go beyond simple provision of two alternative meals, neither of which the resident may like.

Which begs a couple of questions. Why delete them from the regulations in the first place if they are going to continue to be ‘expectations’? (If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, as the saying goes.) And secondly, what evidence is there that the care home sector is so well funded and motivated that there will be a sudden leap toward offering multiple choices in food provision? Here is surely where ideology bumps into reality, and simply ignores it as an inconvenient truth.

Now it isn’t as though the Government didn’t know what they were doing, or the implications, or the concerns that people had about these moves. In May 2014 a colleague charity, the Relatives and Residents Association, wrote to the Chair of the Health Select Committee, Stephen Dorrell, and copied it to  several other MP’s (including the Minister for Care, Norman Lamb). At that point they drew attention to a number of these deletions, but apparently got no-where. In the current climate, if you are not saying what they want to hear they just don’t listen.

Ideology never allows reality to get in the way.

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