Monday, 22 April 2013

A lesson in how to cover your backs


I was asked to speak at a conference recently about supported living and housing. It was not the kind of conference I usually get asked to speak at. It was aimed at healthcare and residential care providers and the delegates were mainly from the private sector. What struck me when I arrived was the sea of middle aged white men in grey suits in an industry that has predominantly female workers and the fact that despite having worked in social care and housing for over 20 years, that I hardly knew anyone there besides a few of the speakers.
We heard from the minister and some of the prominent figures in the Department of Health and the Care Quality Commission and it was clear that they were what brought the majority of the delegates to the conference. We all sat there in dutiful silence hearing about the future plans for care, support and regulation. All standard social care conference stuff until we went off to take part in the various themed workshops of the conference, the one I was involved in was on supported living.
It started off with a consultant who I recall a few years ago used to be very outspoken about how supported living was not the way forward for people with learning disabilities and made his money by assuring residential and healthcare providers that their businesses were the way forward. To my surprise, he was up there waxing lyrical about supported living and talking about the importance of things like choice and control in people’s lives. Despite my discomfort that this guy clearly sees that using the language of choice and control is a way for him to make money in our new age, I was pleased that even people like him are coming around to the fact that we have to stop controlling the lives of older and disabled people.
What really shocked me was the workshop being held before my session. I will give it another name so as not to identify the facilitators or the conference. It was called something like ‘How to cover your backs if there is a scandal in your organisation’. And it was full. Are there really that many organisations that know they are so bad that a scandal is likely to erupt in the near future? Did the conference organisers know that this was a session that would be valued by delegates? Surely a worskshop on ’improving quality and avoiding poor services’ or ‘how to tell when you should not be operating in the care industry anymore’ would have been more appropriate. But telling organisations how to get out of publicly damaging situations when they have put their organisations before the people they are supposed to care for is not only depressing, it indicates an industry lacking any morals or real understanding of what they are there to do.
It feels as though some of these organisations are operating in a different world to those providers who are committed to supporting people to have equal lives and to have real choice and control over what happens in their lives. Yet they are all operating on a level playing field. It just doesn’t seem right. This isn’t just about the private sector- I know some amazing profit making organisations- but there is something that seems sordid and immoral to me when there is such a large care sector that puts profits before people. I know that there is much work going on nationally with strengthening regulation and corporate accountability but the bottom line is that there are plenty of really good providers out there and I would prefer to have one of them care for me or the people I care about, rather than an organisation that is only trying to improve because they are forced to do so.

After this workshop, there was a flipchart left over in the room that had a list of people and organisations you should communicate with if you are at the centre of a care scandal. In that list of course was the CQC- next to it was written ‘don’t say too much’. Says it all really…..