Care homes operator pays compensation to family of elderly resident subjected to 'sickening' abuse

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19 June 2014

The owners of a care home where staff were jailed after being caught on camera physically and verbally abusing a 89-year-old woman have finally agreed a compensation settlement with her family for allowing the ‘sickening’ treatment to happen.

Staff at Oakfoss House Residential Care Home (now named Trees Care Home), in Weavers Road, Pontefract, West Yorkshire, were secretly filmed by the family of Ivy Robinson and caught subjecting her to over a five day period in November 2011.

Staff member Emma Bryan was jailed for her part in the abuse, described in court as ‘sickening’, and colleague Katherine Wallis handed a community order. Mrs Robinson was assaulted and neglected, with video footage showing her being dragged across a room, making her scream in pain, and being threatened with violence.

However, despite the clear evidence, the admission of ill-treatment and the subsequent jail term, it has taken until now for East Yorkshire-based owners, Denestar Ltd – which also owns and operates the Ivanhoe Care Home in Hull and Willerfoss House Care Home in Withernsea – to admit their liabilities and pay compensation to Mrs Robinson’s daughter Angela Wood, and son-in-law Simon.

Mrs Robinson has since died, but her family are now campaigning to end suffering to the elderly, and are fighting for better care for others living in care homes across the country.

They say the agony of their two-and-a-half year fight for justice has underpinned their belief that major changes need to be made across the care home industry, calling for CCTV cameras to be made compulsory in all residential care homes.

It comes as a survey, conducted on behalf of Neil Hudgell Solicitors – the firm which secured an undisclosed settlement on behalf of Mrs Robinson’s family – revealed almost two thirds of people would not trust care home staff to provide a safe and adequate service to an elderly relative.

Less than a quarter of people questioned across the country said they would feel comfortable putting a loved one into care.

Solicitor Simon Wilson, who handled the case, says the results are unsurprising given the number of cases of neglect and mistreatment making the headlines.

He says the firm has recently handled another similar case – at a separate care home operator elsewhere in the country – where staff were caught by concerned relatives shouting abuse at an elderly resident when they left a voice recorder in the woman’s wheelchair.

“Both were very troubling and saddening cases,” said Mr Wilson.

“Not only have we seen elderly patients treated disgracefully, but we have also seen the impact it has on the relatives too. These are usually sons and daughters, and they are left feeling they have let their parents down by not being there for them. Nothing could be further from the truth though.

“When families put their elderly relatives into care, they do so because they have recognised they cannot commit the time to looking after them adequately. They quite rightly expect the very best care when they are placed in a home.”

Growing mistrust around the care elderly people currently receive in homes across the country was also evident in the survey, which was carried out amongst more than 1,000 people across the UK aged from 18 to 55.

80 per cent of those questioned admitted stories of abuse and neglect left them feeling ‘frightened’, whilst only 23 per cent of people said they would be comfortable putting a family member into care.

For Mr and Mrs Wood, who received compensation for both the pain and suffering caused to Mrs Robinson, and for the time Angela had to spend at the home herself due to her being concerned over her care, that is no surprise.

And despite no longer having their mother to fight for, the couple have joined the Action on Elderly Abuse campaign group in a bid to prevent more elderly people suffering like Mrs Robinson.

“My wife and I have made a pact after all of this that neither of us will ever go into a residential care home, we won’t let it happen to one another,” said Mr Wood.

“CCTV cameras have to become compulsory across the board, as it is the only way of people seeing a true picture of what goes on when visiting times are over. People will always point to intrusion, but the footage would only need to be viewed by professionals, with random pieces of footage selected for viewing.

“The home owners will object of course, because they are businesses at the end of the day and the focus is on making money and not care, we have seen that first hand.

“We haven’t given up fighting yet. We are convinced there is a much bigger picture to emerge and we will continue fighting to ensure elderly people get the care they deserve. We owe it to mum to carry on campaigning, and that is what we intend to do.”

Mr and Mrs Wood also believe many elderly people are being taken into care too early. They were advised by medical experts that Mrs Robinson was a danger living at home more than 10 years ago due to her worsening dementia, but now wish they had been afforded more quality time together.

“Myself and Angela have discussed this a lot and we firmly believe she could have had much longer with her loved ones. People are best with their families, the people who truly love them,” added Mr Wood.

“We look back now and we strongly believe that she was taken into care far too early, she would have been better off at home being looked after by people who loved her. She clearly wasn’t loved and cared for where she was.”

Thankfully, Mrs Robinson ended her life in happier times, having been moved to an alternative nursing home following the court case.

Whilst there, she regained her confidence and was happy, celebrating her 90th birthday before passing away late last year.

For the couple, seeing her smile again was a wonderful moment given all she had gone through, and they have repeated the advice they made after first seeing the harrowing footage of her abuse.

“We would repeat our advice for relatives to ask questions of their relatives’ care, demand the best service, and if you see any signs of nervousness or upset in the one you love, demand answers,” Mr Wood added.

“We were labelled ‘complainers’ and ‘moaners’ when we raised issues. It was only when we took action and filmed the abuse taking place that the truth came out and our worst fears were confirmed.

“Even then, despite the evidence being presented in court, and two people being sent to prison, we have faced close to a further two years battling for the home owner to accept their responsibilities and pay compensation. Again, to us that smacks of arrogance and denial.

“We just don’t believe there is a 100 per cent commitment in any residential care home across the country to make the needs of their residents a top priority at all times.

“It wasn’t perfect at the new home, and there were still some things we were unhappy with in the main due to our experiences in Oakfoss House, but we worked with the new home and carers and thankfully mum was happy there and she returned to her old self within weeks.

“It was like turning the clock back years, and we were all able to celebrate her 90th birthday. She still had flashbacks though, and if she was being woken by staff she would be confused and plead with them not to hurt or hit her. The damage done to her never went away.”

Given his involvement in recent cases with Neil Hudgell Solicitors, Mr Wilson believes the residential care home industry has a tough challenge ahead to win back public confidence.

“The results of this recent survey send out a very clear message that the general public have a deep mistrust of the care elderly people are currently receiving in care homes across the country,” he said.

“This is somewhat saddening given the amount of great work done by many carers who provide excellent care, often on low wages and in difficult circumstances, with patients who can be aggressive and violent themselves.

“It appears that going forward, these damaging incidents of abuse will lead to more people feeling they need to care for relatives themselves, something which will clearly put more pressure on their home and work life.”

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