Recently newspapers covered the appalling story of a 91-year-old with dementia who was left to die of severe hypothermia at a private care home near York.
Judge Paul Batty fined the owner of the home, MMCG, £1.6m for breaches of health and safety law, identifying ‘systemic’ problems in the home. But as the victim’s family pointed out, no fine, no matter how large, can replace a loved one.
York Crown Court found that care staff had failed to follow a doctor’s warning to keep her warm, and that she had not been given any hot food or drink on the day of her death. Investigators also found that over the course of several years, warnings from staff and relatives that the oil-fired heating system was not working properly had been ignored by the care home’s owners.
And who are those owners?
Maria Mallaband Care Group (MMCG) Ltd is one of the UK’s largest private care companies, which runs 76 care homes with 3200 residents and an annual turnover of £100m. Its founder and CEO is almost as well known for hobby as a racing car enthusiast as he is the care home empire responsible for his £66m personal fortune.
But with barely a week going by without a new horror story of care recipients or staff mistreated, it’s clear that the problems go beyond any one tragedy or company. The truth is that MMCG, like Sevacare, are part of a sector which is racing out of control.
Despite the emphasis of MMCG and others on providing high quality care and, no doubt the best of intentions, the truth is that every penny taken out of the system in private profit is money that could have been spent on fixing the radiators, employing more staff, or paying its care assistants a living wage for the heroic job so many do, often in far from ideal circumstances.
Those who argue for privatising our public services often do so on the basis that it makes them more efficient and accountable to those who use them. Try telling that to the staff of the care home and relatives of patients who repeatedly warned the home’s management of problems with the heating.
It’s not just corners cut or profits taken out that are the problem here, fundamentally it’s about a system in which staff and clients end up as grist to the profit mill, rather than active participants in shaping and delivering the best possible quality of care.
While we can never say with certainty that tragedies like this one can be avoided, it’s hard to believe that a system in which staff and families had a greater say, and one in which profits were reinvested rather than contributing to personal fortunes, wouldn’t have done a better job of preventing a tragedy like this one.
At the Co-operative Party, we’re calling for social care co-ops that are owned by care workers, care recipients and their families to take the place of private providers, to be run on a not-for-profit basis. And until that happens, we’re calling for staff and care recipients to be given the right to be directly represented on the Boards of private providers like MMCG – ensuring that next time, they are listened to.