Standards collapsed so quickly at a severely short-staffed care home that families were given just 10 hours’ notice of its final closure triggering a desperate scramble to find new homes for traumatised residents, the Guardian has learned.
Berkeley House in Kent looked after adults with severe learning difficulties and autism but, five weeks ago, its operator suddenly decided it could no longer provide safe care and families were informed at 7.30am that their loved ones would have to leave by 5pm, a move branded “inhumane” by one family. Only four days earlier, families had been told by the operators the move would happen after 28 days.
The case emerged amid calls for the government to take urgent action to boost staffing levels in care homes and home care across England. Earlier this year there were estimated to be more than 100,000 social care staff vacancies in England and it was calculated this week that about 60,000 workers quit between April and October. Half of councils surveyed in England have had to deal with care homes closing or going bankrupt in the last six months.
The operator, Achieve Together, blamed the collapse on severe staff shortages, a problem threatening care nationwide. It said that “due to our inability to recruit and retain staff we were unable to continue to provide a good standard of care”, and it decided to close the home. It added that after an inspection, the Care Quality Commission regulator and the local authority “determined that people’s needs would be better met in alternative provision”.
Yola and Graham Wakefield, whose 29-year-old son Michael lived at the care home for a decade, described “heart-breaking scenes” as people arrived to collect their loved ones.
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“Staff were in tears, residents were being led to awaiting vehicles, confused and scared,” they wrote in a letter of complaint to the provider. They described Michael as “traumatised and devastated”.
“Our son had to be sedated so that we could remove him from the home he had known for 10 years,” they said. “We had no time to arrange the removal of his larger personal belongings and so all that was familiar to him had to be left behind. What he experienced was inhumane.”
The family of another resident Lawrence Green, 31, only heard he needed to be out that day at about 10am – just seven hours’ notice.
“It’s just ludicrous,” his father, Paul Green, said. “It highlights the fact that the governance of these organisations is not to do with the care of the people. Their priorities seem all wrong. In terms of caring for the people, I think they are more interested in the property values.”
He said he did not accept the argument that staff shortages were the problem, saying the problem was the care company was not paying enough to attract recruits.
Achieve Together is owned, via a chain of several companies, by a company registered in Jersey. Its ultimate parent is AMP Capital, a global investment management company based in Australia.
It admitted standards fell “way below” the level people deserve and said “we wholeheartedly apologise for this.” A spokesperson said: “We completely recognise the distress and concern that the speed and nature of this closure caused for the people and families involved.”
The Care Quality Commission said it imposed “urgent conditions” on the home after a 20 October inspection and, after another check on 28 October, “the provider chose to cancel their registration”. Residents had to leave the next day.
“If we didn’t take this urgent action there would have been a serious risk to people using their services,” said Debbie Ivanova, deputy chief inspector of adult social care.
Karen Edwards, whose autistic son Jonathan Edwards, 28, lived at Berkeley for three years but has not yet found a new care home, said: “It is like the care has been taken out of social care. It is now just money and pen-pushing. The vulnerable person at the centre of it all has got lost. Maybe that’s a reflection of our society. That’s not something we should be proud of in our country.”
Labour’s shadow care minister, Liz Kendall, said: “This awful case is just the tip of the iceberg”. “The Tories’ utter failure to deal with staff shortages in social care is putting people at risk. We need an emergency winter plan, before parliament stops for Christmas.”
The Department of Health and Social Care has been approached for comment.
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