West Sussex County Council provides a wide range of services across the county.
Many are familiar and easily understood – the road network and highways, for example, along with libraries, our Fire and Rescue Service and education.
But one of the most important, yet one of the least well known, is the safeguarding role we play which is also a statutory obligation as well.
It is our responsibility to ensure that the people that need us most – the vulnerable, the weak, the frail, are cared for and protected from harm at all costs.
Safeguarding doesn’t just relate to children (our child protection duty) but also to the old, very frail and elderly, many of whom are being looked after in nursing homes. They can be people living independently and also those who are privately funding their care in nursing homes or people whose care we, as West Sussex County Council, fund.
You may have read about the Care Quality Commission (CQC). This organisation is the care regulator and watchdog and it is the responsibility of the CQC to regulate nursing homes and the standard of care within them.
But it is the county council in any given area that will always hold the safeguarding role. Our duty is to make sure all such individuals are free from the risk of harm of any kind and to deal with any risks that do arise. Our work in this area is overseen by a Safeguarding Board chaired by the County’s Director of Public Health.
It is so often the case we will work with the CQC and other partners when undertaking our safeguarding role. So what does that actually mean and what does the county council have to do?
We may get an alert from someone who is worried about either the care or treatment of a person in a care home. This alert can come from a relative, concerned person, member of staff or whistle-blower and it is the county council's duty to investigate and take necessary action.
This statutory duty applies whether we as a county council are funding a resident’s care or not. So in some cases, although we have no funding or regulatory relationship with a care home, we do have to rightly take appropriate and necessary action.
Sometimes, concerns and alerts can be dealt with relatively easily and then we monitor the situation. Sometimes it becomes clear they have been raised and reported because of fundamental inadequacies in the home, often due to poor management practices and supervision.
This is far more serious. You may, as you are reading this, think is a simple case of the county council taking over and closing the home.
However, although stringent and firm action is required, the situation is very complex because many of the residents are very old, frail and vulnerable and quickly become settled in the home - which often they hope will be their last. before they move onto their very final resting place.
Also, more often than not, residents have very complex care needs and moving them into a new home could be distressing and traumatic for them.
For the families and relatives this too could be distressing, especially if the residents are moved some distance away due to insufficient availability of places to go.
After assessing the situation we will help support and guide the home with our own teams of social workers and experts, often with very good results. When the issues have been resolved we then move out but keep a watchful eye.
Sometimes that simply does not work and problems are so serious and fundamental that they cannot be resolved. Closure is then the only option.
This was the case with a care home in Crawley known as Orchid View.
In this extremely serious case there were five deaths which the Coroner last year found were directly attributed to by neglect and substandard care at the home.
This home was privately run by Southern Cross Healthcare which no longer exists.
In such cases we commission a Serious Case Review, conducted by an Independent Chairman, to look at what happened.
In this very serious case the chairman of this review posed 4 important questions to be answered by the Serious Case Review.
Considerable time was taken talking to the relatives as well as reviewing all the information around this issue.
One can only have the greatest of respect and understanding for the relatives involved who gave their time to help with this review. It certainly could not be easy. We offer our condolences, but for these families closure is understandably difficult.
On Monday, June 9, after discussing the findings of the report with the families first, the report was published.
In the report there are recommendations for our Adults’ Safeguarding Board and for the county council.
I want to assure everyone that this will be an absolute priority for the county council and I will be blogging about this more in the future.
We will certainly be looking to the Care Act that has just been passed by Parliament to guide us through the actions that need to be done in the field of safeguarding for vulnerable adults.
There is no getting away from the facts in this Serious Case Review. No one would want this to happen anywhere. Sadly recent documentaries on TV highlighted some appalling care practices.
Our duty is to do all we possibly can to prevent this happening again, and that has to be our prime commitment in the coming months.
Personally, I find writing a blog about such an issue incredibly difficult. What the relatives are going through is difficult to comprehend which is why we will leave no stone unturned in the future to act upon the recommendations made in this report.
Alert me - Sign up to the latest Leader's blog email alerts