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Nursing and Residential Homes

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:59 am on 3rd April 2001.

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Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 10:59 am, 3rd April 2001

I am grateful for the opportunity to debate standards of care in nursing and residential homes, although Parliament has spent some time discussing the topic in recent years.

In the past 10 years or so, two constituents of mine--one is over 60 and the other is well under 60--have always begun conversations with me by saying, "What are you doing about the old people?" and this debate is about exactly that.

I am pleased to have secured today's debate and was prompted to do so by a series of events that began in December last year, when some colleagues and I visited Guy's hospital, residential homes and old people's homes as part of a Christmas visit programme. I have made such visits in all but one year since becoming the Member of Parliament for Southwark, North and Bermondsey. Indeed, I inherited from my predecessor, the late Bob Mellish, the tradition that the local MP spends Christmas day at work, and I am very happy to do so. Such visits seem to be much appreciated by those one sees.

This year, Denise Capstick--a colleague who is a state registered nurse and a local councillor in the ward in which I live--and I visited several old people's homes, some of which cater for old people in general, and others for the particularly old or frail, or for those with mental illness. We were troubled by the lack of stimulation, personal attention and care that certain elderly residents in my constituency were apparently receiving. It seemed that minimal interest was taken in them, and that in some cases only mealtime and toileting needs were attended to. They were left staring at a loud television in overheated accommodation--and this was Christmas day--with little else in the way of activities. So troubled was my colleague that she resolved to pay further unannounced visits.

Since then, a particular incident has significantly raised the local profile of the issue. In February, constituents whom I already knew approached me and others about the apparent lack of care for, and potential violence and assault on, Walter Cook, a 70-year-old resident of a nursing home in my constituency. The assault on Walter Cook, which took place at the relatively new Tower Bridge care centre, gave publicity to his case, and led to on-going police investigations and to Mr. Cook's removal to other local accommodation.

Concerns arising from our Christmas and subsequent visits, and from the complaint made by the Pitts family--Mr. Cook's family--raised the general profile of the issue. Denise Capstick and her opposite number, Vicky Naish--deputy leader of Southwark council and the person with responsibility, under the cabinet system, for health and social care--resolved to work together to ensure that their concerns were adequately addressed. I should point out that there is no party political division in respect of this matter, which has become one of general concern. There has been the greatest collaboration between Vicky Naish, Denise Capstick and other councillors.

As a result, one local paper--Southwark News--to its credit ran the story about Mr. Cook. Publicly and privately, I suggested to the council that an independent inquiry or a review of the standards of care in the borough's residential nursing homes would be a good idea. As a result of that correspondence, I wrote to the deputy leader of the council and she replied positively and helpfully. She accepted my invitation to attend a public meeting in the Beormund centre in Bermondsey about two and half weeks ago and came with the director of social services and other local authority officers. Also in attendance were the chief executive of Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham health authority--Martin Roberts--and his staff and other councillors, including Denise Capstick who had been with me in the first place. A significant number of people at the meeting had--or had had in the past--relatives in local residential care and nursing homes. The meeting, which I chaired, was not easy. It was full of angst and difficulty as people recounted stories about discovering that the care and attention offered in homes was not up to the standards that they had expected. I should add that the stories were about events of the past two or three years and so did not necessarily reflect the current situation. However, several unsettling and troubling stories were told and they have prompted me to ask questions and raise issues about the existing situation, before the full impact of the Care Standards Act 2000 takes effect.

I want to mention two other pieces of background information. First, I am conscious that Parliament has paid considerable attention to the matter and I pay tribute to the previous Administration who started the work and to the Government who have continued the work to ensure that we have a better regulatory system for dealing with nursing and care homes. The 2000 Act--I do not pretend to be an expert on it--is, by and large, a good and satisfactory piece of legislation that promises well. A regulatory inspection regime will be in place from next April--in fact, it began as a shadow regime three days ago.

We are looking forward to something that promises a better system of regulation, but as we all know, it takes time to get such systems up and running. I initiated this debate in order to ask Ministers and other hon. Members what we can do between now and next year to ensure that best practice is not delayed while we wait for the new regime to be introduced next April, and for its necessarily later implementation across the country. The process is bound to take a while and it may develop like the Ofsted regime. Not all Ofsted inspections occurred in the first months of the new system and, if we follow the Ofsted principle, there may be some years, certainly some months, before people can carry out the inspections ordered under the Act.