CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

‘No staff… so elderly at sheltered housing block look after each other’

Warnings follow case of phone operator telling daughter of dead man that he was still alive

09 February, 2017 — By William McLennan

‘The place is so depressing’, says Malcolm MacKay

VULNERABLE pensioners are being cared for by fellow residents at their sheltered housing in Belsize Park after staff shortages left them without support for days at a time, it has been claimed.

The council-run block in Waterhouse Close is home to 21 people who have been told they must live in supported accommodation, but tenants told the New Journal this week that the sole member of staff is regularly called away to work at other homes in Camden.

Malcolm MacKay, 75, said: “It feels like we are at the back of the queue. Whenever they need staff elsewhere, they take them from here. “I had one woman’s family come and knock on my door the other day, and they said: ‘We were told to go and see Malcolm when there’s no staff in.’ That puts me in an awkward position. I’m not going to say no.”

When staff are absent, residents and their families are told to seek assistance by using a telephone care-line, operated by a call centre based more than 100 miles away in Eastbourne on the south coast. The quality of care provided at the unit was thrown under the spotlight last week when it was revealed that Sara Handley had been told by a care-line operator that they had just spoken to her father, Peter, when in fact he had been lying dead on the floor of his flat for hours.

Peter and Sara Handley

Mr MacKay, a cancer survivor who moved into the block after breaking his hip in 2012, said: “When I first came here it was great. There was a buzz about the place. Now the place is depressing. Families are fed up. They say: ‘Where are the staff?’ There’s a lot of bitterness about the way we have been treated.”

His neighbour, John O’Brien, said: “There’s less staff now than there has ever been and we keep hearing about cuts.”

There was no manager on-site when the New Journal visited this week. A switch allowing wheelchair users to open the main door was hanging from the wall with wiring exposed.

Mr MacKay said: “This is a typical example. It’s been like it for days.” Ms Handley, who met Mr MacKay and Mr O’Brien this week, said she was “absolutely appalled” that residents were left to care for each other.

She said: “When you visualise sheltered housing, you visualise someone being there. Or at least really near, not in Eastbourne. I really think something should be done where they can interact a bit more, even people going up there and doing some classes. Everybody just seems so lonely. It’s just so sad. The woman who works there is lovely, but she can only work the hours she’s been paid for.”

Hampstead and Kilburn MP Tulip Siddiq, who has been contacted by Mr Handley’s family and Mr MacKay, said: “Tragic incidents such as the death of Peter Handley reported by the CNJ last week are of the utmost concern, and expose the very real human cost which can result from a drop in the quality of social care. We have seen increasing pressure placed on local authorities of late as they attempt to provide social care against a context of relentless cuts from central government. It is vital that we do everything possible to work with the council and their contractors to ensure that incidents like these are investigated fully and action is taken to prevent a repeat.”

A council spokesman said: “Camden’s sheltered housing schemes have a team of managers working across them. A manager is based at Waterhouse, but, like all scheme managers, may be required from time to time to cover other locations. For times during a weekday when there is no manager present there is an availability of the community alarm system that ensures emergencies are swiftly responded to. “The resident manager is available out of hours, but residents are also supported by the care-line service.”

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