North Devon man’s calls for care home regulation reform are debated in parliament

North Devon man John Barrass has been campaigning for changes to the way care homes for elderly peop

North Devon man John Barrass has been campaigning for changes to the way care homes for elderly people are inspected and regulated and for an overhaul of the complaints process. Picture: Andy Keeble - Credit: Archant

Health minister says improvements have been made but admits complaints system is ‘not working perfectly’

Vera Barrass, pictured before her death in 2009. Picture: Contributed

Vera Barrass, pictured before her death in 2009. Picture: Contributed - Credit: Archant

A North Devon man’s call for reforms to the way care homes are regulated has been debated in the House of Commons.

John Barrass, from Bickington, has been fighting for a shake-up of the country’s regulatory care bodies since the death of his mother Vera in 2009.

His seven-year investigation has culminated in a report called Care Means Care, Justice in Care, a document he has recently sent to Prime Minister Theresa May.

In a letter to Mrs May, he called for her to personally intervene and call for an all-party parliamentary debate.

North Devon MP Peter Heaton-Jones is fighting for reforms to the way care homes are regulated.

North Devon MP Peter Heaton-Jones is fighting for reforms to the way care homes are regulated. - Credit: Archant

“I cannot bring my mother back or stop what I have agonisingly had to witness and go through, but I can try to stop this happening to others,” he said.

Mr Barrass, 66, already has the support of North Devon MP Peter Heaton-Jones, who yesterday (Thursday) told parliament that the issue was ‘vital for the welfare of vulnerable elderly people.’

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Mr Heaton-Jones said Mr Barrass had raised ‘serious concerns’ about the care his mother had received in the final weeks of her life but had ‘hit a brick wall’ when he attempted to have her case fully investigated.

“He believed that the mechanism simply did not exist to allow him to satisfactorily raise his concerns about shortcomings in his mother’s care,” said Mr Heaton-Jones.

Bickington man John Barrass and his father George are calling for the creation of one body to invest

Bickington man John Barrass and his father George are calling for the creation of one body to investigate, regulate and handle complaints about care homes. Picture: Andy Keeble - Credit: Archant

“He came to the conclusion that the system was simply not fit for purpose.”

Mr Heaton-Jones told parliament that Care Quality Commission (CQC) was unable to investigate individual complaints against providers and the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman was unable look into complaints about privately-funded healthcare.

And he called for the creation of a new single body to inspect, regulate and investigate complaints against care homes.

“When things go wrong and a member of the public needs to raise a complaint against a care home they are often faced with a bewildering labyrinth which needs to change,” he said.

Vera Barrass, died of aspiration pneumonia at North Devon District Hospital in October 2009, aged 82

Vera Barrass, died of aspiration pneumonia at North Devon District Hospital in October 2009, aged 82. Picture: Contributed - Credit: Archant

“People just don’t know who to turn to when they are worried that something isn’t right and with this level of confusion imagine what it is like for people whose elderly relative is in a care home; they are worried; they are in an emotional state; and yet still they have to deal with this incredibly complex complaints procedure.

“In a nutshell the system is bewildering; it lacks accountability and transparency and would leave most people confused and frustrated.

“In his document, Mr Barrass is convinced that we need one body only to investigate, regulate and handle complaints about care homes. I think that is a suggestion that deserves serious consideration.”

Mr Heaton-Jones first raised the issue in a Westminster Hall debate a year ago to the day and he said that the (CQC) was listening but there was still ‘considerable room for improvement’.

North Devon man John Barrass has been campaigning for changes to the way care homes for elderly peop

North Devon man John Barrass has been campaigning for changes to the way care homes for elderly people are inspected and regulated and for an overhaul of the complaints process. Picture: Andy Keeble - Credit: Archant

“Of the 448 care homes most recently inspected, a staggering 200 – that’s 45 per cent – have been rated as either requires improvement or inadequate,” he said.

“That means that more than four in 10 of all establishments are not currently reaching the required standard.

“Surely the purpose of any system of regulation and inspection must be to drive up standards. Those figures alone suggest that the current system is not working.

“We have a growing number of cases where care homes are simply not coming up to scratch.

Bickington man John Barrass and his father George are calling for the creation of one body to invest

Bickington man John Barrass and his father George are calling for the creation of one body to investigate, regulate and handle complaints about care homes. Picture: Andy Keeble - Credit: Archant

“This is not about processes, systems or organisations. This is about people; people who do not have a voice in a system where four in 10 care homes fail to reach a satisfactory standard on the CQC’s own measures.

“That means that people – vulnerable, sick and elderly people – are in some cases not being properly cared for. That cannot be right. We have to do something about this and we do have to act now.”

Health Minister Nicola Blackwood, who called Mr Heaton-Jones a ‘doughty campaigner’ on the issue, said poor care, abuse and neglect were completely unacceptable at all times and the Government was determined to stamp it out.

She said the CQC had introduced a tougher inspection regime in October 2014 and there had been improvements in standards.

Ms Blackwood said 901 enforcement actions were made in adult social care in 2015-16, ranging from warning notices to prosecuting providers.

“We now have a more robust inspection standard to ensure greater accountability for providers for unacceptable standards of care,” she said.

“We have seen improvements since the observation that four in 10 are not reaching the required standard.”

Ms Blackwood said there was a statutory requirement for care home providers to operate a complaints system, held to account by the CQC, but admitted the system was ‘not working perfectly’.

“Despite the progress we are making, we still hear too many stories that highlight people’s real concerns about the quality and safety in social care and we are determined to do better,” she said.

“It is right that people and their families should feel able to raise concerns without fear of reprisals.

“Ministers and the sector are looking into developing an adult and social care quality strategy, which will look at complaints and the culture of why people are in fear of speaking up and how we can improve the system to make it easier for them to do so.”

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