She thought she was doing the best for her elderly mum.
Like so many other well-meaning relatives, Sue Rennie put her trust in staff at The Briars care home in Southampton only to discover her loved one suffered a catalogue of neglect at a time when she was most vulnerable.
Owner Annette Hopkins and manager Margaret Priest were this week convicted of wilful neglect over their failings in running the care home in Bitterne.
But a possible jail sentence for the pair may be small comfort to the relatives of those elderly residents left in desperate need of food and water and in shockingly filthy conditions while under their care.
An investigation revealed residents at The Briars were malnourished and dehydrated, left in urine-soaked beds and suffering severe bedsores. What’s more, bosses were unqualified and some residents were so ill they should have been transferred to specialist nursing homes.
Looking back at her mother’s time at The Briars, Sue Rennie feels “angry and saddened” that things could have been allowed to go so far before the alarm was raised. But she fears the appalling conditions at The Briars may be a reflection of a wider crisis within the care system.
“I feel this case should be a basis from which the whole system is reviewed and improved,” said Sue, from Woolston.
“Maybe this will make people realise that the standards of our care homes – and their inspections – need to be raised.”
Sue’s late mum Florence, who had dementia, was admitted to The Briars in 2004 after Sue, 55, began struggling to care for her alone at home.
Sue’s first impressions of the home, she said, were good.
“It seemed lovely. Maggie [as Margaret Priest was known] seemed very efficient and very professional and she was always telling me what courses the staff were being sent on.”
But during her mum’s three-year stay at The Briars, Sue became increasingly concerned after seeing a resident left without sufficient bedding, pills lying on the floor in communal areas and residents left in urine-soaked clothing.
“One day the lady who shared a room with my mum was soaked through with urine but staff just changed her incontinence pad and didn’t wash her before putting her to bed. The stench was unbelievable.
“On three occasions I noticed that a lady, who was staying at the home for a day’s respite, was wet through when her family came to collect her.”
Sue raised concerns with staff about the conditions on a number of occasions but felt it wasn’t always easy to speak out.
“I felt things weren’t right but you worry you are being petty and making a fuss. You think the staff must know what they are doing and you don’t want to look like you are interfering.
“I would like to see a system where every care home appoints a member of staff who is responsible for the shift they are covering, carries out spot checks and, wherever necessary, gives guidance to carers.
“I dread to think what would have happened to Mum if I wasn’t visiting every day to wash her and get her ready for bed.
“Her fluid charts weren’t kept up to date so I had no idea how much she was drinking. I’m not confident she was receiving her medication and I found her eye drops were out of date and not stored in the fridge as they should be.
“I had to ask for her catheter bags to be changed and there was no access to the residents’ daily reports which were kept stored away in folders in the office.”
On another occasion Sue noticed severe bruising on her mum’s back.
“When I asked staff about it they said they didn’t know how it had happened. I think she must have had a fall but it was never documented. The Briars wasn’t equipped to deal with people who had dementia and personal care issues. Staff just didn’t have the knowledge or training to deal with people like my mum. It felt like they were just blagging their way through.”
Now Sue is calling for six-monthly anonymous spot checks at all care homes and nursing homes.
“They shouldn’t just be checking the facilities and what entertainment is on offer. Qualified doctors and nurses should be checking individuals who are bedridden, incontinent and prone to skin conditions to make sure they are being cared for on a personal level and the appropriate treatment is given.”
She said she was surprised to hear that a helpline exists which she could have used to voice her concerns, and said more should be done to promote it.
Sue added: “It was heart-wrenching to see my mum in a home. She used to be in domestic service and had such meticulously high standards. To see her like that broke my heart.
“I don’t want to sling mud at any individual, I just want to see a change in standards in all homes from the management down to the front line carers to make sure this cannot happen to any more vulnerable people.”