Northern Ireland

Cherry Tree House nursing home review amid neglect allegations

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Media captionThe allegations concern Cherry Tree House in Carrickfergus

The health minister has ordered a review of a County Antrim nursing home eight years after a whistle-blower says she first made allegations of patient neglect and poor practice.

The former care assistant described the standard of care at Cherry Tree House nursing home as sometimes "appalling".

She alleged patients often were not fed if they were unable to feed themselves.

None of the whistle-blower's criticisms are connected to anyone currently working in the Carrickfergus home.

The woman, who wishes to remain anonymous, is no longer working in the care industry.

"Food would be left on trays and just thrown out - I tried to get round them all but it was impossible," the woman said.

She claimed that some members of staff had not been properly trained.

'Toileting regime'

According to the woman, some patients' dignity was not respected on occasions as the workers were inappropriately trained.

Speaking to the BBC, she said: "There was a horrible toileting regime. The sheet sat in the lounge and staff had to fill it in when patients had gone to the toilet. The information was shouted across the room in front of visitors."

The woman worked at Cherry Tree nursing home in Carrickfergus for many years.

She claimed that: "Care assistants were told to use the same pair of medical gloves to deliver personal care, including wiping bodily fluids. Then wash them (the gloves) and to go on and wash the next patient using the same pair of gloves....including patients who had MRSA."

Image caption The whistle-blower spoke anonymously to the BBC about her time working in the nursing home

According to the woman, care assistants would regularly find there were no cleaning materials, including plastic protective covers for beds.

"Every patient should have a glide sheet (on their bed) of their own. But you'd be using the same glide sheet from one patient to another and that would have had faeces, urine on it - especially with those patients who had MRSA. "

'Numerous complaints'

The woman said the response from the various government agencies to her allegations was completely inadequate in the circumstances.

"I always followed the proper procedures - I went down the proper line of reporting. I approached the RQIA (Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority), my local MPs, the Northern Health Trust, then I took it to Stormont and now I'm in the process of taking it to the ombudsman."

During the latter years she said that she made numerous complaints about how residents were fed and toileted. But she said initially her complaints fell on deaf ears.

In 2012, the Northern Health Trust said it carried out an internal review of how the woman's complaints had been handled.

However, the woman asks if this was appropriate as in effect it was investigating itself.

Seen by the BBC, the confidential review concluded that lessons had been learned and would be shared among the other health trusts.

They including ensuring safeguarding vulnerable adults standards are met by nursing homes; employers to ensure referrals to regulatory bodies and employers to identify support for whistle-blowers.

Inspections

According to the RQIA's inspection reports, examined by the BBC, from 2009 Cherry Tree nursing home was very much on the RQIA's radar.

Since then it has been the subject of 20 inspections; normally two inspections are carried out on a nursing home each year.

It raised concerns over patient safety and ordered the home's owner to tackle problems concerning infection control, the protection of vulnerable adults and a lack of leadership.

The inspection reports also pointed to concerns over the care and treatment of residents and a lack of responsibility by staff.

Last year, Cherry Tree's owner and the 'person responsible' for the complying with care standards at the home, Dr Dean Harron, was summoned to a meeting with the RQIA, at which it raised the "potential for prosecution".

The regulatory body acknowledged that Dr Harron was doing his best and asked how he proposed to improve the performance of his management team.

The RQIA said urgent action was needed to keep patients safe and Dr Harron undertook to address the issues.

That was a year ago, but in May this year Dr Harron was again summoned to the RQIA, this time to attend a "serious concerns meeting".

Image caption The nursing home is owned by Dr Dean Harron

Details of that meeting have not yet been made public.

Weeks earlier, inspectors had issued 14 requirements and recommendations relating to patient medication.

On several occasions the BBC asked the owner, Dr Dean Harron, for a response but he did not reply to our request.

The woman described the regulatory body, the RQIA, as not fit for purpose.

According to her their inspections and follow up procedures are too lenient. Among her complaints is that too many warnings were given to the owner of Cherry Tree nursing home.

'Independent experts'

In a statement, the RQIA confirmed to the BBC that it has been asked by the Department of Health to conduct a review of the responses of health and social care organisations to allegations made concerning Cherry tree House.

In light of that review it said it could not comment.

It did say however that it continues to monitor the quality and safety of this service through its regulatory activities to assure the safety and wellbeing of all those using the service at this time.

"RQIA takes any intelligence that comes to its attention, whether through inspection, complaints or whistle-blowing, seriously. All such information is assessed in a timely manner, to determine the appropriate regulatory action that may be required to protect those using health and social care services."

Following the whistle-blower's complaints the Department of Health has confirmed to the BBC that a team of independent experts has been appointed to review information relating to the service between 2005 and 2012.

It is thought a report will be published in the new year.

Angela Wilson, the current administration manager at Cherry Tree House nursing home, said staff at the care facility had worked hard to address the concerns raised in recent RQIA inspection reports.

"We have worked on them and we have dealt with the problems" Ms Wilson told BBC Radio Ulster's Talkback programme

She said the RQIA last inspected the home on 19 September.

"With the reports that we have got back from them, everything was great," Ms Wilson said.

"We're not perfect, no nursing home anywhere in the world will ever be perfect but we work to the best of our ability to support our staff, to support our residents, our relatives, and we do the best that we can, and you can't asked for any more than that," the manager added.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said: "The minister has commissioned the RQIA to carry out a review to provide independent assurance that all necessary steps have been taken in response to concerns regarding the quality of care provided at Cherry Tree since 2005.

"The review will identify any gaps in the investigations and make recommendations on how these should be addressed."