The Commissioner for Older People has warned that not enough is being done to improve safeguarding in care homes in Northern Ireland.
Eddie Lynch said he was concerned and frustrated at the pace of change in implementing recommendations that flowed from his damning 2018 report on Dunmurry Manor Care Home.
Mr Lynch’s investigation listed a litany of failings in the care provided in the home, prompting him to make 59 recommendations to seven relevant authorities related to care provision, inspections and management.
The seven relevant authorities were the inspection body the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA); Dunmurry Manor Care Home; its owners Runwood Homes Limited; South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust; Belfast Health and Social Care Trust; Northern Health and Social Care Trust; Southern Health and Social Care Trust; and the Department of Health.
Mr Lynch said all the authorities responded to the proposed recommendations by an October 2018 deadline but he considered much of the information provided to be “lacking in substance”.
The commissioner then asked for further responses, which he said did offer some assurance, but not enough.
“I remain concerned and frustrated by the pace of change,” he added.
“The relevant authorities have had 16 months to demonstrate action on these recommendations and I am not assured that enough work has been done to make the necessary improvements to the safeguarding and care of residents in care homes.
“The majority of my recommendations have been ‘accepted’ by the relevant authorities and I acknowledge there have been some changes in practice.”
I remain concerned and frustrated by the pace of changeEddie Lynch
He added: “I welcome these actions, but the pace and scale of change is not enough.
“There is still much work to be done by the authorities to fulfil their promises on paper and I welcome the Minister of Health (Robin Swann) coming into office at this time.”
Mr Lynch updated families impacted by his Dunmurry Manor Care Home probe, titled Home Truths, on Wednesday.
He said many of the responses received from the authorities cited the need for a “ministerial decision” to implement a recommendation.
These included the implementation of an Adult Safeguarding Bill; stronger financial penalties for providers who do not meet minimum standards; a ratings system for care homes; changes to complaints systems; the establishment of an independent body to encourage and support whistleblowers; and dementia-friendly standards to hygiene and cleanliness of care settings.
“I am frustrated that in 2020 we still do not have an Adult Safeguarding Bill,” said the commissioner.
“I met with Minister Swann this week and I look forward to further discussions so that the above recommendations can be progressed as a matter of urgency.
“I call on the Minister and the Northern Ireland Assembly Health Committee to progress this work without any further delay and oversee the full implementation of all my recommendations.”
Responding to the commissioner’s concerns, Mr Swann said much more needed to be done to restore public confidence in care home provision in Northern Ireland.
“While much of this frustration stems from the absence of an Executive and Minister, that is no comfort to the residents and families who were so badly let down,” he said.
“I want to make clear that I agree with the Commissioner that much more needs to be done to rebuild public confidence.
“As Minister, I want to extend my apologies to residents and families for the failings at Dunmurry Manor.
“I also apologise for the fact there has been no Assembly in place to bring forward legislative change.
“With devolution restored, the Executive and the Assembly can now right this wrong.”
He said important reforms had been taken forward following Mr Lynch’s initial investigation report.
“Overall, I want to see a far-reaching programme of change to improve the quality of nursing and residential homes and treatment of older people in Northern Ireland,” said the minister.
In a statement Runwood Homes said staff “immediately and efficiently addressed all of the applicable recommendations highlighted by the commissioner following the Home Truths report published in June 2018, and provided responses and evidence required, as was assured, by October 2018”.
“Operational management at Runwood Homes continues to firmly monitor and review all services in order to further develop and proactively improve overall performance, for the benefit of service users as well as staff; meeting people’s individual needs and wishes in a dignified, kind and respectful manner at all times,” the statement added.