In Please Look After Mum, Panorama presents the abuse and neglect of residents at Laurel Bank Nursing Home in Halifax.
Panorama found that the authorities failed to:protect vulnerable elderly residents over a long period
take effective action against those responsible for abuse
warn the public about what was going on there.
Although the events in our film go back to 2003 and 2004 there is still confusion as to how far the regulator which covers nursing homes in England will investigate individual complaints and whether local social services have sufficient powers to protect vulnerable adults.
The police still appear reluctant to recognise elderly abuse cases as a high priority.
Our reliance on private care homes means that:we are placing vulnerable adults out of sight in closed institutions
the shortage of places means the authorities are reluctant to close homes down
often difficult and demanding residents are in the hands of a poorly paid and poorly trained workforce.
Our investigation of Laurel Bank involved speaking to the families of those neglected there, including:
She was taken to hospital from Laurel Bank in May 2003, suffering from malnutrition and necrotic pressure sores. Her family successfully sued Laurel Bank who admitted clinical negligence.
She was taken to hospital with scepticaemia and pneumonia in July 2004 after being in Laurel Bank for three months. She is currently taking legal action against the home.
Prompted by complaints from Lily Leatham's daughters, Calderdale Social Services suspended admissions to the home and the regulator (since renamed the Commission for Social Care Inspection) began an investigation at Laurel Bank.
We used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain notes of their inquiries which revealed that:an elderly woman complained that staff had punched her in the stomach and threatened her by waving scissors in her face.
Elderly residents were verbally abused. Staff were allegedly overheard using sexually aggressive language and asking a resident questions about her sex life and her body.
The home was understaffed. Some criminal record checks on new staff were not made.
Some carers were alleged to be using drugs.
Care notes and staff rotas were alleged to be inaccurate.
The regulator allowed the home owner, Christopher Bolland, to carry out his own inquiries, as a result of which three members of staff were fired.
Mr Bolland undertook to raise standards and, consequently, Calderdale Social Services began readmitting residents in October 2003.
Crucially, the problems at Laurel Bank had been kept secret, so the public, including the relatives of Agnes Moore, didn't know there were problems at the home. So Agnes went into Laurel Bank in April 2004. Three months later, according to her family, she had almost died as the result of neglect.
Care worker Sarah Barrett worked at Laurel Bank as a care assistant over a couple of years until October 2003. She told the programme about the abuse and neglect she witnessed there. She described:how difficult residents or those without relatives were kept in filthy conditions in the so-called "loopy lounge"
foul-mouthed verbal abuse
an old lady being slapped with wet flannels.
Sarah told relatives she would be willing to speak to the police about what she had witnessed.
And Lily Leatham's daughter, Marilyn Hartley, passed this information on to West Yorkshire Police in 2005. But the police never interviewed Sarah Barrett.
For West Yorkshire Police, as elsewhere, the scale of abuse in care homes is not seen as a major problem: "West Yorkshire Police reported that they do not keep specific data (on these incidents) because it is not a huge concern." (Quoted from a Calderdale Council Report, December 2004).
Sarah, who left Laurel Bank after reporting what she had seen, also told us about a serious accident she was involved in, in November 2002. It was an accident which should have been reported to the authorities but which the regulator says it has no record of having been told about.