'We felt our loved ones were simply left to die'
AN INVESTIGATION into a Belfast care home has uncovered a “horrific catalogue of inhuman treatment” in which residents went for “weeks on end without meals” and were denied medication.
Sexual assaults were carried out on some frail female patients by other residents at Dunmurry Manor care home, while others suffered extreme weight loss – with one pensioner dropping 10 stone in five months.
Harrowing details of neglect and abuse were outlined in front of distressed relatives in a Belfast hotel on Wednesday, as the north’s Commissioner for Older People, Eddie Lynch, released the findings of his unprecedented report.
Scathing criticism was levelled at Runwood Homes, the Essex-based private company that ran Dunmurry Manor, as well as health watchdog the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) and other NHS bodies.
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While multiple inspections were undertaken by RQIA inspectors, all but one took place during ‘nine to five’ hours – and found the home “to be meeting the required standards of care” even when “terrible incidents” were occurring, Mr Lynch said.
Runwood’s managing director in the UK, Logan Logeswaran, resigned on Wednesday over the scandal, with the company releasing a statement saying it was “truly sorry” for its failings.
Some of the most shocking details of neglect at the home, which specialised in the care of dementia patients, were:
- Dramatic weight loss among residents, with one man going from 15 stone to five stone over a few months.
- Bed sores so extreme they went ‘down to the bone’ and became infected with E coli.
- Prescription drugs not being administered for weeks.
- Sexual assaults on female patients by other residents.
- Runwood using the “cheapest of the cheap” incontinence pads despite having an annual turnover of £130 million.
- Nurses forced to buy their own equipment, and agency nurses saying “I’m not going back there” because care was ‘so dangerous’.
The commissioner used his legal powers for the first time to carry out the probe, having been approached by two families and whistleblower ex-employees in December 2016.
A team investigated the home, which opened in 2014, as well as the role of the Department of Health, the RQIA and four health trusts which referred patients to the 76-bed facility.
Family members who had concerns about their loved ones’ care were also interviewed. They were yesterday praised for their “bravery”.
An emotional Mr Lynch said his team were “heartbroken” by some of the testimonies.
“Nothing prepared me for what we were to uncover... this was a horrific catalogue of inhuman and degrading treatment over a long period of time. Many people were neglected and abused,” he said.
“Elderly people should feel safe in a care home. It is with great sadness and anger I can tell you this was not the case.
“Some of the families told me: ‘We felt our loved ones were simply left to die’.”
The investigation was particularly critical of health service bodies which “failed to act” when “fundamental human rights” were breached.
“There were 23 inspections carried out by the RQIA over 39 months. All but one were carried out between 9am to 5pm. There was no sense of care being delivered overnight. There was no sense of what staffing levels were like overnight. Only 14 relatives were spoken to by inspectors in that first year,” Mr Lynch said.
“Dunmurry Manor was receiving more than £2 million from one of our health trusts but couldn’t afford to spend £10 on the best incontinence pads.
“Residents were going weeks on end without food. There was significant weight loss and this wasn’t because of their clinical condition. When some of them were moved to other homes, they got better.
“Nurses had to go out and buy their own blood-pressure monitors because the ones in the home were broken.
“This home was a new facility. It looked modern and nice. But appearances can be deceiving. It’s what went on behind the scenes that really mattered.”
Mr Lynch said that when family members realised there were problems and made complaints, the home’s staff and Runwood failed to respond to concerns.
“This was compounded by a failure of statutory agencies to act to protect the basic human rights of residents and their families,” Mr Lynch said.
The report, ‘Home Truths’, was delayed in part by the “sometimes unhelpful nature” of some of the health service bodies being investigated, Mr Lynch said.
“I believe this investigation could have been concluded more quickly had some relevant authorities adopted a more cooperative approach from the outset,” he said.
Dr Robert Peat, one of the expert advisers to the report, said none of the relevant health authorities “knew the full picture” of what was happening at Dunmurry Manor.
“The current [inspection] system in Northern Ireland is not fit for purpose,” he said.
A second expert, Professor John Williams, said the report’s findings provide “some form of justice” that has been “long denied” to the families.
“Concerns were raised and nothing was done. People had to live in appalling conditions... there was a violation of dignity in which people didn’t feel safe. They were indeed at great risk,” he said.
A total of 59 recommendations have been made, with copies of the report forwarded in advance to Secretary of State Karen Bradley and the head of the civil service, David Sterling.
One of the most significant is the introduction of an individual duty of candour to ensure “transparency”, in line with a call made by Sir John O’Hara following the hyponatraemia inquiry.
Mr Lynch does not want his report to “sit on a shelf” and intends to publish on its progress a year from now.
In a statement, Runwood’s chief executive George Sanders said a new management team was put in place at the home last August.
“We have worked hard to put things right at Dunmurry Manor as well as taking strenuous steps to ensure such a situation can never arise at any other group home,” he said.
“Residents and their families can be assured that corrective action has been taken. We are stringently enforcing the very highest standards of operating, technology and service delivery.
“We guarantee that any resident or family member with concerns can make easy direct contact with senior directors.”
None of the health bodies criticised in the report commented on its findings.