‘Failures’ spark fresh call for inquiry into care home deaths

Ian Jerome and Judith Charatan of the Orchid View Relatives' Action Group
Ian Jerome and Judith Charatan of the Orchid View Relatives' Action Group

A new call for a public inquiry into deaths at a scandal-hit care home is being made following ‘failures’ in West Sussex over the past eight years.

The call comes from relatives of 19 people who died at Orchid View care home in Copthorne in 2010 and is being made to the Government’s Health Select Committee.

It is being launched amid an ongoing police inquiry into nine care homes, all run by the same company - Sussex Health Care - in and around Horsham following the deaths of 13 people.

Orchid View, run by a separate company called Southern Cross, closed after the scandal in 2011. Since then relatives of the 19 who died there have been battling for official answers into what went on.

In a letter to the Health Select Committee this week again calling for the opening of a public inquiry, Judith Charatan of the Orchid View Relatives Action Group says their pleas have been prompted “in respect of the failures evidenced in West Sussex since 2010.”

The group says: “We predict another disaster looming if more stringent measures than those seen to date are not implemented.”

In a submission to the committe, Judith added: “A public inquiry would both support and encourage those that deliver great care as well as dealing with instances where failures cause avoidable death and harm.

“A public inquiry is also sought to identify the root causes of the appalling performance seen in adult care across West Sussex, at what is now some three years after the new Care Act was brought into legislation, and some eight years after the failures seen at Orchid View where the deaths of five residents – Jean Halfpenny, 77, John Holmes, 85, Enid Trodden, 86, Margaret Tucker, 77, and Wilfred Gardner, 85 - were ruled by the coroner to have been attributed to by neglect. Many others received sub optimal care.”

She said an inquiry was also needed to address wider issues over the care and protection of vulnerable people in care homes in West Sussex. “Local authorities have been charged with responsibility for safeguarding but no effective oversight of their activity has been apparent,” she said.

A previous request for a public inquiry, supported by the coroner into the deaths of the Orchid View victims, was not pursued following assurances from authorities that ‘lessons had been learned.’ Said Judith: “We question how this culture could ever have been thought to be effective in delivering improvements,”

She added: “It is also clear that ineffective management of conflicts of interest have been a factor in the failures seen. A regime of effective oversight would ensure that such conflicts do not have potential for harm. Allegations currently exist of collusion and cover up within West Sussex adult care operations, fuelled by the evidenced lack of transparency by the agencies towards the families impacted.”

She also criticised effectiveness of the Care Quality Commission, which is responsible for inspecting care homes, and a lack of police prosecutions.

The letter to the Health Select Committee adds: “In the case of West Sussex, it is hard to see where any effective challenge within the current process comes from and who effectively supports and represents those families of those impacted by harm. Families are unable to be a part of safeguarding adult board meetings or processes and are effectively excluded by data protection rules and general opaqueness/lack of transparency at a governance, member and officer level.”

It continues: “In spite of improvements introduced under the Care Act and tighter CQC inspections/regulations, we continue to encounter shortcomings that force us to challenge the authorities to recognise much more needs to be done.

“This is the least we can do given the suffering our families endured at the hands of those we placed our trust in to look after them. We want to ensure others do not have a similar experience.

“It is our opinion that only a full public inquiry will achieve this and is now needed to allay concern and restore public confidence that has become eroded for many.

“No one should live out their years in fear for themselves or their family members needing to go into care or cope with similar levels of pain from anxiety, guilt, sadness and anger if things go wrong as many of us already have.”