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Norfolk care home accused of waking residents with loud music to save money

Care workers at a private care home forced dementia sufferers out of bed as early as 5am and woke them by blasting loud radio music to save money, whistleblowers have alleged.

The management of Iceni Care Home in Swaffham, Norfolk, received repeated complaints about the practice this summer, as concerned staff said vulnerable residents were being treated as if they were “on a farm” in order to reduce the workload on daycare staff.

One alleged incident was reported in October after it was claimed screaming was heard before two agency care workers were found forcing a woman with dementia out of bed before 6am.

Thomas Ryan, a whistleblower who managed the Norfolk care home at night, said he ran to the scene to find “the lady was screaming, lashing out”.

He also alleged: day staff would turn up Alexa speakers in the corridors to play Kiss FM outside residents’ rooms at 6.45am to wake them; prescriptions for medicines such as anti-psychotics and antibiotics had on occasion not been collected for two weeks; and incontinence pads were locked in a cupboard at night, leaving residents unclean.

The care home is one of several owned by Syed Anjum Hussain, a 48-year old businessman based in Hertfordshire. It is one of about 1,500 residential care homes in England rated as “requires improvement” by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) regulator.

It said it was unable to publicly comment on the allegations but safeguarding allegations are routinely shared with CQC and the local authority.

Ryan, who ran night shifts at Iceni, and his fellow whistleblower Clare Miller, a senior care assistant, have worked in social care for more than four decades combined. They said the alleged mistreatment of residents could have been avoided if the operator had paid for more staff. This would have allowed staff to get residents up only when residents chose to.

“I hate the fact that families have to hear this, but they need to because this is going on behind their backs,” said Miller, who described it as “organisational abuse”.

More than 150,000 posts are vacant in social care in England and government plans that emerged last week to restrict migrant workers risk worsening the problem, sector leaders fear.

Miller is the daughter of Ann King, whose abuse in the Reigate Grange care home in Surrey was exposed by the Guardian last year. She started working at Iceni in April 2023.

“The attitude regarding getting people up in the morning is disgusting,” Ryan told the care home operator by email in August. “It is not a farm. We will not force people out of bed … It is the residents’ choice not the staff’s. This is abuse and the home is allowing it to happen, despite me telling you.”

The care home operator welcomed his feedback as “very useful” and said people should not be “got up for the convenience of the team”. Ryan and Miller said problems persisted in the following months and they quit.

They told the Guardian staff were often not washing people when they changed their pads, leaving them soiled. Pads had been locked away. The care home manager told Ryan this was because “the night team had borrowed excessively”.

“They had the money to fix the problem,” Ryan said. “It has to change. We are all going to reach an age when we need help and if there isn’t caring help there, where are you going to go?”

A spokesperson for Norfolk county council said it was seeking assurances from the care operator about care and support. It said the home had been responsive and referred itself to the local authority safeguarding teams.

Peter Dean, a registered manager of Iceni Care Home, said: “All complaints and allegations are thoroughly investigated within our established robust processes. Safeguarding allegations are routinely shared with CQC and the local authority in a transparent manner, with whom we always maintain close communication.

“In keeping with our policy and obligations of confidentiality to service users and other stakeholders, we are unable to publicly comment in respect to these specific allegations.”

He said where allegations were unsubstantiated the complaint was closed, and where allegations were confirmed, changes were implemented to improve the quality of the service.

“We operate an open culture where we value the lessons learned from feedback,” he said.