The care regulator has “retreated to the sidelines” throughout the coronavirus pandemic, leaving older people in care at risk, a charity has said.
Judy Downey, chairwoman of the Relatives & Residents Association, said the Care Quality Commission (CQC)’s failure to adapt has left care home residents “feeling bereft” of protection and scrutiny.
In a letter to chief executive Ian Trenholm, she said residents have been neglected by the system at a time when they needed it the most.
The CQC said it has taken “decisive action” throughout the pandemic, including undergoing more than 7,000 inspections and making it clear to providers that blanket approaches to visiting are unacceptable.
Since early March, indoor visits have been permitted by the Government in care homes in England.
From Monday, residents will be able to have visits from up to five designated loved ones as well as from a designated essential caregiver.
They will also be able to leave the home for more visits out, such as for a medical appointment, or to visit a day centre.
But charities such as the R&RA have said too many families are struggling to get the visits the Government says can go ahead.
She wrote: “CQC’s lack of action has continued to leave older people in care at risk.
“They have been neglected by the very system designed to protect their rights.
“CQC’s lack of voice and leadership have left the sector even more vulnerable and resulted in a further lack of trust in your authority.
“CQC’s failure to adapt to this changing world has left care users and their families feeling bereft of the protection and scrutiny specifically designed by Parliament to protect them.”
The R&RA said helpline callers have told them of inflexible and blanket approaches to visits, the essential caregiver role not being implemented, end-of-life visits only being offered at the very end and visits out of the home only being able to take place under staff supervision.
Families are worried about speaking out, with the wife of one resident trying to secure more access told by a social worker to stop rocking the boat for fear they will lose the placement, it told the CQC.
One caller reported having only had two visits throughout the pandemic.
And it said one home was closed for a month after a staff member tested positive, despite them being on leave at the time and no other cases in the home.
The charity has asked the CQC to explain why it is not actively monitoring homes’ compliance with visiting guidance, despite repeated calls.
Ms Downey also said a “very real and new fear” shared by callers is the persistence of ‘closed cultures’ in care settings which is in danger of becoming the new normal.
She said it is important that residents have face to face contact not only with friends and family, but with health practitioners and other professionals who can help ensure their rights are protected.
The charity has asked the CQC to share how many inspections it has undertaken in response to concerns about closed cultures.
Ms Downey continued: “Older people needing care have been badly let down by the CQC during the pandemic.
“It is imperative that you now take urgent action to remedy these failings and earn the trust and respect of those you exist to represent.”
The CQC said it continues to “seek assurances” from providers about how they are supporting visiting to happen.
Of the 1,282 inspections since March 8, 95% homes were enabling visits and action has been taken with the remaining 5%, it said.
The CQC has acted on concerns raised about 37 potential blanket bans, it added.
Kate Terroni, CQC chief inspector of adult social care, said: “We expect providers to follow government guidance on visiting where people are entitled to have designated visitors, and where we are made aware that this is not happening we will follow up with the provider and inspect if we consider that there is risk.
“Where we have any evidence that this is not happening we will continue to take action and are grateful to all those who continue to share their concerns with us.”
She added: “It is not acceptable for people to be treated unfairly if they raise concerns and I am clear that appropriate action will be taken if we find providers failing in their responsibilities.”