Belfast Telegraph

Underwear shared at Northern Ireland care home despite order to stop

By Lisa Smyth

Residents of a care home owned by Runwood Homes were sharing underwear five months after health inspectors ordered that the practice should stop, it can be revealed.

Inspectors from the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) discovered residents at Rose Court care home had to share underwear during a visit in December last year.

At the time, they told management that the use of communal net underwear by people who are incontinent must stop immediately.

However, when they returned to the facility in Ballymena, Co Antrim again, at the end of April, they discovered that communal underwear was still being used.

During the same inspection in April, the RQIA inspector was also forced to intervene after he noticed staff were crushing biscuits into cups of tea for residents who had difficulty swallowing.

It is the latest shocking failure by Runwood Homes - the same company that owns Dunmurry Manor - to meet basic standards and protect the dignity and safety of some of the most vulnerable people in Northern Ireland. It also came eight months after the owner of the firm, Gordon Sanders, put in place a new senior management team in Northern Ireland to drive up standards.

The performance of the Essex-based company has come under the spotlight since the publication of a scathing report into conditions at Dunmurry Manor earlier this year.

The Commissioner for Older People in Northern Ireland revealed a litany of devastating failings at the facility, including one resident whose bone was exposed by a pressure sore, residents going without medication for weeks at a time, and people left to sit in urine-soaked clothing for hours.

The latest RQIA inspection of Rose Court care home uncovered examples of good practice and no enforcement action was taken as a result.

However, the inspection report said: "Observation of the morning and afternoon tea/drink round evidenced a lack of snack options for patients on a modified diet, staff were also observed crushing plain biscuits into tea for those patients who had dysphagia, this practice was discussed with the registered manager and should immediately cease.

"An area for improvement under the standards was made. Discussion with staff, observations in the laundry area and linen trolleys evidenced that net pants were being laundered and used communally.

"An area for improvement made in this regard at the previous care inspection has been stated for a second time."

The inspector also discovered that some residents were not getting enough fluid, while five people working at the home had not yet applied for registration with the regulatory body. In 2016, new admissions to Rose Court care home, formerly known as Rose Martha Court, were suspended amid concerns for the safety of residents there.

Aidan Hanna from NI Patient Voice said: "In December 2015, the RQIA held a serious concerns meeting with a Dunmurry nursing home called Kingsway and the nursing home was questioned about the use of communal net pants.

"It is shocking that the RQIA has now had to raise this serious concern at two inspections in a row at Rose Court.

"The RQIA should have called a serious concerns meeting and taken enforcement action against Runwood Homes when this was discovered for a second time in April."

UUP MLA Roy Beggs said he was horrified that Runwood Homes had failed to address the issue of communal underwear.

"This is a relatively straightforward thing to fix, by simply putting the names of residents on the clothing you can ensure that residents are not sharing underwear," he said.

"It is also inexpensive to address, so I am at a loss as to why this was not done.

"Runwood Homes must now explain to the residents and their families why this didn't happen after it was raised by the RQIA in December." Meanwhile, DUP MLA Jim Wells said the RQIA should not have waited almost five months before checking whether communal underwear was still being used at the home.

He added: "It does make you question what a home has to do before officials say enough is enough and close it down."

Runwood Homes was asked to explain why it had failed to act on the recommendation made in December to stop using communal underwear.

It was also asked why staff were seen crushing biscuits into drinks of people with swallowing difficulties. A spokeswoman said: "We are delighted with the overwhelmingly positive findings of the latest unannounced RQIA inspection of Rose Court.

"The report notes that patients described living in the home in positive terms and were observed to be relaxed and comfortable in their surroundings, as well as evidence that the management team listened to and valued patients and families and took account of their views.

"We stress that residents do not share underwear - incontinence sufferers are provided with fresh, clean net pants for their use.

"However, we are now labelling these so that each person has their own set of net pants and when labels come loose in the laundry, we dispose of the item.

"Residents are free to crush their biscuits into their own tea if they wish, and many like doing so. However, staff have been advised not to do this and we have also provided a wider range of alternative snacks."

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