Our population is rapidly aging, with 273,000 people in Lancashire projected to live past 65 by 2024 - an increase of 11 per cent on current levels.
But at just the time when demand on the care system is increasing, the care sector is buckling under the strain, with dozens of homes closing and others failing to meet safety standards.
Latest inspection data revealed that a quarter of Lancashire’s care homes are not meeting basic industry standards.
Over the last 18 months, 13 care homes have closed, with a loss of 345 beds.
The Care Quality Commission - which rates all care homes as either Inadequate, Requires Improvement, Good or Outstanding - has found that of the 424 rated homes across the county, over a quarter are failing their residents with 104 (25 per cent) being told they Require Improvement and nine (two per cent) being rated as Inadequate.Just one per cent (seven homes) were rated as Outstanding, while the remaining 304 (72 per cent) were rated Good.
Preston city councillor Christine Abram spoke to the Post about the emotionally draining experience that came with putting her mother, who was suffering from dementia, into a care home three years ago.
“The experience of finding a care home was awful,” Christine said. “On Christmas week, a social worker sat me down with just a tick list. I was simply told she needs a care home, go find her one’. I didn’t receive any guidance, anything.”
“If I was now looking at somewhere for my mother I would be very worried. It’s a big decision to make and it is not one you take lightly.
“This is not an issue for party politics. It’s vital to have a care situation where carers are trained to their essential best because when you are not there you need to know your family are being looked after. You feel guilty enough for putting someone in a home to begin with; it’s an added stress and pressure on top which I found be to very stressful.
She added: “At the end of it all you want them in the right place. They have earned that right. There’s something very wrong and we need to know what that is. If the government is at fault then it needs to be put right.”
If I was now looking at somewhere for my mother I would be very worried. It’s a big decision to make and it is not one you take lightly.
Regarding CQC ratings, Christine thinks they only tell part of the story. Christine said: “You have to physically go to homes to get that feeling that it’s the right place for your loved ones.
“You get anxious about it and when you are looking for the right one you aren’t in the correct frame of mind as it is; there is lots of things to take into account and visits are key to understanding what you are choosing.”
Deputy Chief Inspector of Adult Social Care for Care Quality Commission, Debbie Westhead, said: “Our inspectors visit every care home in Lancashire to ensure people are getting a good standard of care.
“We monitor, inspect and regulate, publishing what we find including giving homes a rating to help people make informed decisions about their care, or the care of a loved one.
“We set out what good and outstanding care looks like and we make sure the care that services are providing, never fall below a set of fundamental standards.
“Where we find poor care, we will use our powers to take action which can include removing a provider’s registration or even prosecuting them through a court of law.”
‘People in care are human beings and they deserve better’
Early in 2015 Julia Barnes became so concerned about the care her mother Lillian Buttery was receiving at Lake View Nursing Home in Withnell, near Chorley, that she decided to install secret cameras in her room. The shocking footgare showed Mrs Buttery being dragged across a room.
When passed to the Care Quality Commission, the home was closed down.
The Post spoke to Julia as part of its investigation into Lancashire’s came homes.
“I’m not shocked and I’m not surprised,”she said. “I think a lot of homes are money driven and run for profit. From my experience they aren’t there for the residents - it’s just a business.
“I dread to think what’s going to happen in the future.
The 58-year-old continued: “These people going into care are human beings. At their time in life they deserve a better quality of care.
“The homes just don’t have the staff. Each resident has their own different needs. You can have six people with dementia who need lots of differing needs. Homes don’t put the money into it. There are hundreds out there suffering from poor care.
“I remember when we visited my mother on her 90th birthday. We wanted to get her outside but the moment she got to the door she froze because she had become institutionalised, but she was a totally different person once out and visiting the family home. I feel so sorry for families that are in similar positions. It still haunts me and my husband to this day - not a day goes by when I don’t think about what happened.
“I am now fearful of growing old because of what happens to people.
“The issues surrounding care are not going away. They seem to get brushed under the carpet. It doesn’t make the front page.”
“I’ve always said, if I win the lottery I will open a home and make sure people there are treated properly.”
Challenges for the care providers
One care provider in Lancashire spoke to the Post – on the basis of anonymity – to discuss the difficulties that comes with gaining a positive report from CQC inspectors and the pressures on care.
They said: “Gone are the days of delivering good care without having immaculate paperwork.
“Being paperwork driven is a good thing in some ways but a bad thing in that it can mean that good work that goes on providing care goes unnoticed in the overall rating.It has certainly caught a few practices unaware.”
Regarding external assistance, they added: “Adult social care is completely underfunded; there’s no money available. More money is needed to invest in vital services such as staff training.”
Nick Wood, one of the owners of Lytham St Annes-based Lakeview Homes, said: “It’s hard to get a rating of Good; it’s not easy at all. If you get a Good rating you are doing a very very good job. It’s a constant challenge. I’ve spoken to a few people before with Outstanding ratings. It’s perhaps on a specific area which is extraordinary that makes it so.
“I spoke to one manager which was Outstanding for activities because they had done extra things like remove some seats from a bus for wheelchair access. It can be the little things.
Regarding care homes across Lancashire, Mr Wood said: “There’s a funding deficit from local authorities that present a big challenge. That impacts the likes of being able to efficiently train staff.
“Because of the funding deficit, the private sector is picking up the slack. It’s always going to be the challenge facing the industry.”
‘Alarming closures’ slammed by MP
Preston MP Sir Mark Hendrick has labelled the care home closures in the city ‘alarming’, urging for further investment from providers going forward.
He said: “It’s alarming that four care homes in Preston have closed over the last year leaving residents and families having to go through the stressful process of moving vulnerable older people and dealing with the issues that go with this.
“It goes without saying that it’s always better to improve the quality of care in a care home, especially registered beds places with a nursing element, than put people through the trauma of moving.
“We will see the situation worsen before it gets any better because what we need is investment and support into adult social care, whether that be from the local authority or from private providers.
The MP for Preston added: “What we’re seeing is real terms cuts to social care. As the population ages, there’s going to be an increase in demand for beds for older people, much in the same way as the demand for mental health beds is going up.
“I have seen first-hand cases of patients waiting in hospitals because they can’t be sent back to their home and there simply aren’t the bed places that there need, putting an extra strain on the NHS.”