1st June 2011

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News and Comment from Roy Lilley


It used to be a regular event.  We'd go every third Wednesday in the month.  It became more and more difficult.  More distressing.


On the last occasion my Mum took a comb out of her handbag and drew it through her friend, Dorothy's, matted silver hair.  Dorothy never noticed.  She sat, in a stained bed jacket, vacant, looking at the bin-store and brick wall on the other side of the window.


We left Dorothy listening to the sound of her own heartbeat.  Alone, surrounded by people she didn't know, in surroundings she didn't recognise, with a life she no longer owned.


A couple of weeks later, on a bitterly cold November afternoon, we drove home from the crematorium.  Dorothy's heart stopped and my Mother's was broken.  I had to stop the car and promise her I would never 'put her in a place like that'.


I made the promise.  God knows if I can keep it.  God knows I'll try. God give me strength to deal with what might come.


I thought about this when the news came that Southern Cross, care home provider for 30,000 of our most elderly and frail, is close to collapse.  They have bought themselves some time by deferring their rent payments.


This is no solution.  The arrears will have to be paid plus accumulated interest.  Pushing forward a bow-wave of debt makes a bad situation worse.  Desperate.


Last night, BBC's Panorama carried secret filming at Winterbourne View, a care home where inexcusable neglect and ill-treatment were the routine.  Horrifying.


Why Southern Cross is in this predicament is not the issue.  Events, the unexpected, the unknown, the unforeseeable, bad management, naivety.  Right now it doesn't matter.  Why patients in Winterbourne were tortured is a question for another day.


The question for today, this morning, right now, right this moment and immediately is; can we leave the care of the most vulnerable in the hands of the private sector?


Regulation has failed, monitoring is not smart enough and inspection arrives too late.  Is the whole model of care fractured and unfit for its purpose?


In every nook and cranny of our normal lives we know and accept that competition and the private sector levers up quality and keeps a handle on price.  We know that is true.  We also know if Tesco's fails we have Sainsbury's, Waitrose, Lidle, Morrison's, the Co-Op and all the rest, ready to step in.  I know it is true.  I have spent my entire business life in the private sector.  We know if BP crashes, Esso and Texaco will fill us up.


I also know; if a care home fails we simply have no answer.  Social Services have a statutory duty to step-in and take over.  What can they do?  They dare not decant 30,000 fragile souls and if they tried where is the spare capacity?


What is in all our minds is this; can we trust the supply of vital public services to any qualified provider?  Does this condemn a whole industry?  If  LaLa's tattered Bill were not in trouble enough, these events must surely have shredded it.


Imagine lying naked on the operating table, the surgeon's knife, plunged into your floppy bits.  'Stop!'  cries the manager as she bursts through the swing doors, 'We can't do this, the company has gone broke.  There is no one to pay.  Sew him up'.


What is the answer for 30,000 people who call Southern Cross 'home'?   What is the solution? 


I hope, as you read this, there is a meeting in Whitehall, this morning, now.  I hope there are plans to bail out Southern Cross  Like the banks, it is too big to fail.  If we can commit the nation's millions to bailing out profligate bankers and keep paying their bonuses we can commit ourselves to keeping a roof over the heads of the vulnerable who, for a lifetime, kept paying their taxes.


Is that a promise we can all keep?


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Writes exclusively.

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