Sunday, 3 April 2011
Legionella Outbreak in Barnet Care Homes - Trades Union response
Dear Cllr Cohen
I am currently up north sorting out the quality of care for my mother in a care home, you may not know that I began my career in social care in Barnet working for what was called them ‘Jewish Welfare Board’ later to become Jewish Care.
I have been contacted following the headline in the Barnet Press which reads ‘Bacteria Scare in Care Homes’
I have read the council’s Press release on this matter and I am heartened to hear you quoted in the Hendon Times as saying
“We take any breach of health and safety regulations very seriously and the council will continue to sample the water systems at all five care homes run by Catalyst and will continue to oversee their treatment processes.”
and later in the Hendon Times saying
“Councillor Melvin Cohen, cabinet member for governance and civic affairs, said: "The tragic consequences of this case highlight just how crucial health and safety at work really is.
"I hope the fines imposed by the court service send out a strong message to employers about the paramount importance of ensuring the safety of those who work for them.”
It is clear there has been a significant breach in Health & Safety and it by good fortune, not good contract monitoring, that to date, there have been no reports of any service users contracting the legionella bacteria. I assume you have already asked that medical records for residents/services users have been checked for any signs of legionella bacteria?
I am not sure if you were made aware of a number of concerns I first raised on 16 February including my request for a public inquiry in order we could learn from the serious mistakes made in these Care Homes.
I had no response until I was contacted by the Press and Iearnt that there were now 3 homes (not 2 as I was previously tod a month earlier) infected and that an improvement notice has been sent to Catalyst Housing Group.
On 17th March I sent the following email to interim Head of Environment Health
Our UNISON regional organiser Laura Butterfield is away on leave and I as Branch Secretary I have been asked on behalf of our members working in the Fremantle for information of any action your service is taking with regards the Legionella outbreak in a number of Fremantle Care Homes. Laura has written to Fremantle on two occasions and has yet to receive a reply.
It is my understanding from reading the HSE document “What to expect when a health and safety inspector calls
A brief guide for businesses, employees and their representatives”
“finding a breach of health and safety law, the inspector will decide what action to take. The action will depend on the nature of the breach, and will be based on the principles set out in the Health and Safety Commission’s (HSC) Enforcement Policy Statement. The inspector should provide employees or their representatives with information about any action taken, or which is necessary for the purpose of keeping them informed about matters affecting their health, safety and welfare.”
It goes on to say
“An inspector will meet or speak to employees or their representatives during a visit, wherever possible, unless this is clearly inappropriate because of the purpose of the visit. When they meet, employees or their representatives should always be given the opportunity to speak privately to the inspector, if they so wish.
The inspector will provide employees or their representatives with certain information where necessary for the purpose of keeping them informed about matters affecting their health, safety and welfare. This information relates to the workplace or activity taking place there, and action which the inspector has taken or proposes to take. The type of information that an inspector will provide includes:
· matters which an inspector considers to be of serious concern;
· details of any enforcement action taken by the inspector; and
· an intention to prosecute the business (but not before the duty holder is informed).
Depending on the circumstances, the inspector may provide this information orally or in writing.”
I have a number of questions
1. Can you confirm whether any resident/service user/member of the public has contracted Legionella?
2. Who is responsible for monitoring the safety of the water supply in these settings?
· Is it Barnet Council
· Is it Catalyst Housing?
· Is it Fremantle
· Is another organisation?
3. When and where in each of the affected homes did they discover Legionella bacteria?
4. When was the last time each setting was checked and who has the records?
5. Does Barnet Council include issues like Health & Safety in the contract monitoring process? If not why not? If yes when were these last reviewed?
6. Are risk assessments on health & safety carried out in all of the settings?
7. As part of the contract monitoring by Barnet Council are these risk assessments reviewed? If not why not? If yes when were they last reviewed?
8. As part of good safeguarding practice have other residential care homes provided by Catalyst and Fremantle been informed about the outbreak and if so have the checks been carried out in those settings?
9. What was the cause of this outbreak and what controls have been put in place to secure the safety of the residents, staff and visitors?
10. Was a risk assessment carried out after the Legionella bacteria was discovered? If yes, what did it say and what control measures were put in place? If not why not?
11. Can you confirm that you have issued an improvement notice and if so please provide me with a copy of the notice?
I have subsequently added another question
12. ‘Have relatives of residents and day care users been informed and kept up to date on developments?’
I note the improvement notice requests
“You should identify who in your organisation and who in your contractors’ organisations needs to be notified about unsatisfactory results. These individuals need to be clear about the required course of action to be taken.
Appropriate communications arrangements need to be in place.”
I hope you have already expressed concern to learn that this still needs to be done 6 weeks after the outbreak first went public.
What is clear is that there is a problem and the problem is transparency; which makes our request for an independent public inquiry in the public interest and urgent.
I have been contacted by a number of journalists working both inside and outside Barnet all investigating the real story.
Sooner or later more information is going to come to light about just how all of this happened I think it is Barnet Council’s interest to be at the forefront in wanting a independent public inquiry.
I have a duty to safeguard our member’s health & safety for our members working in those care homes and I want greater transparency and would welcome a joint call from Barnet Council to ensure there is a public inquiry.
Forgive my cynicism that my request for an independent public inquiry will be met with stony silence, which is why I need to add a further reason for an inquiry.
The One Barnet programme is a mass privatisation programme, the success of which would be reliant on ability of the council to successfully procure and contract & monitor private sector organisations. The added risk is that these organisations are not subject to Freedom if Information (FOI) requests and often hide behind commercial confidentiality.
I am sure you perhaps have already asked this questions but
“What is the councils responsibility with regards health & safety of Barnet residents and members of the public when services are privatised?
Sub contractor failure?
I have been contacted by someone who claims they worked in one of the Fremantle Care Homes. They allege there was an organisation called Tarn Pure who used to carry out checks for Legionella. I have checked and Tarn Pure appear to be a highly professional and reputable company who specialise in water treatment.
I want to bring this comment in the ‘improvement notice’ issued to Catalyst Housing
“Due to the complexity of your arrangements at these care homes it is imperative that you identify clear lines of responsibilities and reporting arrangements for each of these parties.”
It appears that the above comment implies a lack of transparency which is impeding the ability to establish who is accountable and that safe systems are in place and lessons learnt.
I have no idea as to whether Tarn Pure were commissioned by Catalyst and if so whether they responsible for what has happened in these homes. What is clear is that there needs to be an independent public inquiry.
I would welcome opportunity to discuss any comments you have on the matters I have raised in this open letter to you.
I would like to have your assurance that these questions will be answered and made publicly available?
I look forward to hearing back from you shortly.
Standing up for staff and public services