Daily Life In Britain’s Nursing Home Industry
By Lars G Petersson
Key Themes: nursing home, true stories, abuse
A large part of Britain’s care home sector has in recent years been outsourced to private companies. From time to time appalling conditions in some of these homes are disclosed to the public by undercover journalists. But, unfortunately, no significant change seems to happen as a result. Very soon it’s all ‘forgotten’ and life goes back to ‘normal’.
This book is different from many of these newspaper stories and TV documentaries. It is different because it’s written by an insider with extensive personal knowledge of the profit-obsessed industry behind the abuse.
As a trained nurse Lars G Petersson has spent years working in British nursing homes – from Surrey in the south to Edinburgh in the north – and in abuse.uk he takes his reader on a detailed tour behind the curtains of a world where so many Britons end their lives in utter misery. By doing so, he paints a picture of not only shockingly low standards and abusive care but also of systematic staff exploitation, toothless regulators and a catastrophically flawed government control system.
Abuse.uk is a book about a failed system that betrays those it was meant to shelter and care for. It is also a book about a business that closes its ranks against the ‘pestilential’ dissident and supports the perpetrators’ efforts to keep it all in the dark.
About the Author
Lars G Petersson is a 57 years old Swedish-born Londoner, activist and free-lance writer with special interest in peace, mental health, social justice and human rights. He is the author of a large number of articles (most of which were published in Danish newspapers and journals) and one previous book, Deserters – a story about German war resisters from World War II. Trained as a nurse – with speciality in mental health, social issues and addiction – he has persistantly used his professional knowledge and insight to disclose matters otherwise hidden from public scrutiny. In a number of cases this has led to serious public debate and major improvements for vulnerable people.
Joseph had MRSA in his nose, was paraplegic, and, as he was unable to swallow, fed through a PEG tube directly into the stomach. His dependency on his helpers in his north London nursing home was total. During my time at the home this defenceless man was constantly suffering from a cold that led him to sneeze right into the air. This seemed to constitute a serious health risk, as he had no chance himself to protect his surroundings. Of course the risk of cross-contamination was obvious, but there were absolutely no precautions to prevent this from happening: there were no special gloves, masks or aprons used for his care, and no instructions had been given to the mostly untrained staff looking after his needs. Gloves worn in care of this resident were right after used to touch door handles, phones and everything else in the building. The unavoidable result: the contamination was not only easily carried directly to other residents but also out of the house.
A place like Northend House Care Home is definitely the dream world of the super bug: constant use of antibiotics, for not only serious infections but almost any minor cough, and no policy of containment of routes of contamination. As most everywhere else in this industry there was in this home a serious lack of essential supplies. Without that it was impossible to give a person like Joseph proper care – and there was no chance one could protect the surroundings. Indeed, the bugs were having a field day – and most likely they still have.
You might think so, but no, Joseph’s case is nothing unusual: I have seen quite a few of them. The measures to contain cross-contamination are a travesty. Bugs are carried from one room to another; they are spread on door handles and wheelchairs and carried home by staff washing their own uniforms. Believe it or not, throughout the whole health system, not only in private nursing homes but within NHS as well, staff are doing the laundry of protective garments/work uniforms in their private washing machines – if they have one – or simply in their bathrooms or kitchen sinks. Though the risks are obvious, it is never a matter of discussion. Indeed, the uniform hygiene is a problem, but even worse is the lack of protective gloves. At Fig Leafs we had one box of gloves for a whole ward for 24 hours; at Northend House there was one box for the nightshift per ward, and this was expected to last for a whole week…. There are one hundred gloves in each box; fifty changes and they are all gone.
It is obvious that properly used a box will not last long. So this is what had to be done: staff had to re-use the same pair as long as possible – until they were totally worn out. It meant that people who had soiled themselves were cleaned and even infected wounds were dressed before the gloves were carried on to the next client, hopefully, but only rarely, after a hand wash with them on. However, even such a wash is not recommended because of the health risks involved.
‘It is now apparent that nosocomial transmission of Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA) occurs primarily through the contaminated hands of healthcare workers who do not follow appropriate precautionary measures including wearing gloves appropriately. The rationale for cleansing the hands between patients must naturally also apply to the wearing and cleansing of gloves. However, cleansing the gloves with a hand rub may lead to chemical permeation of the material.’
In line with this announcement RCN, the Royal College of Nursing, recommends that gloves are not washed, as this reduces ‘the integrity of the material’, and this could reduce the protection normally afforded by the glove. As a result of that knowledge, this body of nursing finds that the importance of changing gloves after each procedure should be emphasised. It is, however, impossible to draw the managements’ attention to this problem. Though they are the only ones who can change the situation for the better only lip service is paid to such concerns and managers are happy as long as costs are being kept down. It’s obviously more important to save a few pounds than to live up to reasonable standards. After all, we must remember the responsibilities to the share holders….