SCANDAL OF WEST DUNBARTONSHIRE COUNCIL CARE HOME SALE: NOTEBOOK BY BILL HEANEY

Meallmore resident bruised

The fall left Jill Symmonds with two black eyes and severe bruising around her face. 

Langcraigs Care Home – sold by the Council for £250,000 less than highest offer.

One of Scotland’s largest independent care home operators has announced today that it is expanding its empire into West Dunbartonshire after securing a £41 million funding package.

Inverness-based Meallmore Ltd will use the cash to purchase two new sites for future developments and refurbish some of its 25 homes across Scotland.

Meallmore already owns Langcraigs Care Home in Gooseholm, Dumbarton, which was sold to them by West Dunbartonshire Council for a knock down price of less than £1 million.

SNP Cllr Iain McLaren, pictured left,  refused to discuss the sale with The Democrat, who asked if proper background checks had been done on Meallmore, and exactly why it was felt the home should be sold for £250,000 less than the highest bid made for it.

Some people wanted the Langcraigs site to be used for social housing for which there is a dire need in West Dunbartonshire.

But the Langcraigs residents were moved up the hill to Overtoun Estate, where a large, £10 million facility had been built at Crosslet House, behind the Timber Houses, with a capacity to accommodate more than 80 residents.

The elderly and frail residents in Crosslet are drawn mainly from the homes, including  Willox Park, Dalreoch and Langcraigs, which had been strategically placed within communities across West Dunbartonshire.

A previous council closed the old “poor house”, which was in Townend Hospital and passed for elderly care in another unenlightened era.

The intention was to provide a modern approach to elderly care which would allow residents to remain in familiar, comfortable surroundings and to meet familiar faces from the communities they came from.

However, this did not materialise and Crosslet House sadly turned out to be disastrously hit by the Covid-19 outbreak.

Things were so bad there that BBC Scotland’s Disclosure programme team came to Dumbarton to do a documentary on it. Part of it revealed that some patients had DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) notices included in their notes without their knowledge or without the consent of their families.

Meallmore said today that the funding from HSBC (a large international bank) will help the company complete the construction of new home in Dumbarton and an additional care home in Aberdeen.

The new Langcraigs is scheduled to open some time “over the next two years”, but no firmer date has been given.

Meallmore operations director Mary Preston said: “The care home sector has had a challenging year, and reflecting on the past few months has only solidified our belief that more investment is needed to make sure that care homes are delivering for the needs of residents.”

Meallmore specialises in dementia care, nursing care, specialist adult care as well as respite and short-stay care, but nothing was mentioned in its press release about its questionable history which includes significant failings.

Two years ago The Democrat asked why the council had sold Langcraigs at such a low price. It was below £1 million and £250,000 less than a construction firm had tendered for it to build housing on the site.

SNP Cllr Iain McLaren, who spoke up for the company at the meeting where the decision was made and the price was agreed,  said Meallmore would be excellent purchasers of Langcraigs.

He vouched for the good name of Meallmore.  It would be acceptable to sell Langcraigs and send the old folk, along with the residents of other local residential homes in Dumbarton and the Vale of Leven up the into the hills at Crosslet, where access was difficult and dangerous to the extent that a pedestrian crossing was required to keep people safe.

That took a long time coming when the Scottish Government dragged its heels on the project and residents, staff and visitors to Crosslet experience some hairy moments in the interim. A schoolgirl was knocked down.

Willox Park 1

Crosslet House, below, had been built by a Labour council despite expert advice that old people were best served by keeping them in the community and interacting with the community.

The £10 million “super” residential home was far from central or in any way conducive to community interaction.

Apart from that it looked architecturally more like a headquarters for the Stasi than an old people’s home.

We asked Cllr McLaren if he would care to answer the question I put to him six months before about the sale of Langcraigs. He had never replied to my e mail.

How could you be so complimentary about Meallmore, I asked, when all you had to do was google their name to discover that allegations made against  them by the relative of at least one resident it were true.

Cllr McLaren seemed startled, almost as if he had never in his political life before been asked a question by a journalist. Maybe he is so inexperienced that he hadn’t been.

Did you, West Dunbartonshire Council and the Health and Social Care Partnership do any research into the background of the care home company that offered to buy Langcraigs?  Surely you must have done that at least, I asked?

At this point his embarrassed colleague Cllr Marie McNair, pictured right,  almost disappeared under the table.

She is now vice chair of the Health and Social Care Partnership, which has special responsibility for care homes. The chair is an un-elected accountant.

Ms McNair is also now the prospective SNP candidate to stand for the Clydebank seat in the Scottish Parliament.

Quite apart from the council passing up the opportunity to use this site to build social housing, which was mooted by some, it was astonishing that the Health and Social Care Partnership, an arm’s length quango in partnership with the council, had decided Meallmore was a fit and proper company to take care of elderly residents.

A cursory look at the company’s record in the care of the elderly field is deeply disturbing.

All WDC councillors – and officials – had to do was what The Democrat did.

This was to Google Meallmore’s name into their computer to discover that the following report appeared on BBC Scotland’s investigative news programmes last year:

meallmoreAn Aberdeenshire care home has apologised after an elderly resident was left severely bruised from a fall. It is believed Jill Symmonds, 78, fell from the toilet while suffering a seizure at Sunnybank Care Home, Cruden Bay. Mrs Symmonds’ family claims that no-one from the care home called to let them know about the incident.  Meallmore Ltd, which runs the care home, said the lack of contact was “unacceptable”. Mrs Symmonds’ granddaughter, Emma Stephen, published a Facebook post condemning the incident, which has been shared more than 1,000 times.  In the post, she said her family did not find out about the fall until nine hours after Mrs Symmonds had been taken to hospital, and even then, they were only told after calling Sunnybank themselves.  She also said her grandmother, who suffers from dementia and epilepsy, had previously broken both her legs in separate incidents due to being left alone on the toilet.  The fall left Mrs Symmonds with two black eyes and severe bruising around her face.

Unfortunately, this is not the only record of similar incidents at this company’s care homes.

There are records of a 91-year-old resident being attacked by a fellow resident in a Meallmore home in Inverness, receiving head injuries.

And of a 32-year-old with mental health issues lying dead for up to a week in their flat while allegedly being supervised by Meallmore care staff.

There was also publicly available a report of an incident when a resident with Parkinson’s disease was humiliated and bullied by staff at a Meallmore residential home.

We wrote at the time: “How the H&SCP can approve this organisation to take care of some of our most vulnerable elderly resident’s beggars belief. This decision to sell this land to this company needs reviewed before legal documents are signed.”

But there were no further communications on these disclosures. West Dunbartonshire Council ignored us. They remained as silent about this as they eventually did about the unacceptably high number of deaths at Crosslet House Care Home.

We asked some Crosslet House staff members and relatives of residents how they felt about what had happened.

They said the home, which boasts a modern cinema room, outdoor terrace, internet rooms, gardens, hair salon and nail bar and provides 84 beds for elderly residents, particularly those with dementia wasn’t as good as their previous much smaller community homes.

People – both staff and residents – were having a hard time settling in. The atmosphere was not the same as in the smaller community homes. Crosslet was too far away, awkward – and expensive – to get to by taxi and there were added dangers about elderly people having to cross the busy A82 to reach it from the bus stop at the foot of Argyll Avenue.

Officially, the council and the majority of councillors of all parties clammed up, although Community Party councillor Jim Bollan did say the whole thing was “scandalous”.

But then he had been critical of West Dunbartonshire Council  from the outset for centralising their own social care services and then allowing the private care sector to move in and “make a profit from the care of our elderly”.

Council officers however recommended that the authority’s infrastructure, regeneration and economic development committee approve the sale of Langcraigs.

Although, and despite the existence of the new “super” home, the reason given was that there was still a requirement for more care home beds locally.

There still is a shortage, but the word on the street is that people in West Dunbartonshire are being extremely circumspect about placing their relatives in a care home – any care home.

Cllr Bollan said at the time of the Langcraigs sale: “This proposal by the health and social care partnership stinks to high heaven.  Once more the public are being duped into believing the argument that big is better and the centralisation of council care services for the elderly is good for them.

“This has been thrown back in our faces through them allowing the private care sector to take over Langcraigs and make a profit from the care of our elderly. Scandalous.”

Langcraigs – All locked up and moved into private sector for £250,000 less than the highest offer.

Sadly, it may have taken the Covid-19 pandemic to shine a new spotlight into the dark corner of the care homes business in West Dunbartonshire and nationwide.

The management team at West Dunbartonshire Council have in the past few days been re-designated as Chief Officers and have had their salaries increased by £12,000 a year at a time when there is an ongoing pandemic and a pay freeze in place for public service workers, some of whom are on furlough and others are using food banks.

Is it any wonder that they have cut off communications with The Democrat?

 

One comment

  1. The whole aspect of the privatised elderly residential care is very concerning.

    Ownership of care homes is now a labyrinth of private companies with interlinked ownerships extending across the world with ultimate ownership holdings in offshore tax havens who have more to do with property asset holding than care.

    In many ways such privatised complexity reflects exactly what our NHS will become when post Brexit the Tories start to privatise our mainstream NHS. Think privatised care homes and you see the vision of the future NHS.

    Business is business and like care home ownership under complex company ownership structures once the genie is out of the bottle it doesn’t go back in. But we know that from the privatisations initiated by Thatcher, continued by Blair and Brown and continued today by Johnson.

    Brexit and a US trade deal will undoubtedly continue the process and we should all enjoy enjoy our non privatised NHS for the time it has left. As for care homes the experiences of what has occurred in Dumbarton, and indeed elsewhere shows that local councils are powerless bit players jogging alongside the big commercial players unleashed and facilitated by people like Boris Johnson and his ilk.

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