Tom Richmond: A scandal that demands action – not empty words

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THE three small words that helped propel Barack Obama into the White House in 2008 – “Yes we can” – now need to be embraced by Norman Lamb as the Health Minister struggles to respond to the public’s revulsion over the latest degrading abuse at a care home for the elderly.

This comes after the leading Liberal Democrat offered a somewhat indifferent response to the very sensible suggestions put forward by two Yorkshire MPs after a BBC Panorama documentary showed haunting and hurtful images of partially paralysed woman being slapped at The Old Deanery near Braintree, Essex.

Lamb, I suppose, will draw comfort from the home’s response and the fact that several staff have now been sacked for negligence. But, as MPs Barry Sheerman and Andrew Percy suggested in the Commons, this abuse was just the latest in a litany of scandals.

As Sheerman, the Huddersfield MP, told the Minister pointedly: “It is disgraceful. We had it before and we had similar answers. We have to stop this. There are wonderful carers out there – most carers are wonderful – but they need support, good skills training and to be paid properly.

“Surely we ought to have a charter in every home that says ‘These are your rights. Don’t let them be infringed. They are clear’. Every good hotel and business has such a charter hanging up where everyone can see it. Can we not have that tomorrow?”

The Minister’s response? “It is a challenge for the whole of society. Whichever Government are in power need to hold the line of being absolutely intolerant of any failures of care and must demonstrate that when they happen, there are real consequences that will hold people to account,” he said rather lamely. In other words, blame the public – or a future Labour government.

Like Sheerman, the Brigg and Goole MP Andrew Percy made an equally cogent intervention. Again it is worth repeating. “Nobody who uses schools is unaware of Ofsted and its job. Should we not look for a similar situation with regard to the Care Quality Commission, and is there not a big public information job to be done to ensure that people know better what the CQC is there for and how to access it?”

The reply? “The CQC needs to build a reputation so that everyone has confidence in its ability always to represent the patient’s interests. I believe that the CQC’s leadership understand that mission...” said Lamb.

I disagree. I, for one, will have no confidence in the Care Quality Commission – or Ministers like Lamb – until they recognise the importance of their respective roles and make it easier for patients, their families and carers to report any suspicions. If it spares one frail person from being abused, it will have been worthwhile.

It is why Sheerman’s poster campaign, and Percy’s awareness drive, should already be happening – and why the Minister’s response only required three words: “Yes we can.”

I WAS somewhat surprised to learn that Britain now has a Minister for Modern Slavery when a Tory MP by the name of Karen Bradley was interviewed on television the other morning. Evidently, she’s part of Theresa May’s Home Office team.

I’m sure the Minister is very able, and that David Cameron wants to boost his quota of female front-benchers, but isn’t this the type of tokenistic non-job that the country can ill-afford in these austere times?

After all, the need to eradicate slave labour – and prevent the exploitation of a migrant workers – should transcend all Whitehall departments and should be part and parcel of the remit of every Minister, even more so in light of the kidnapping of 300 schoolgirls by Islamist militants in Nigeria.

IN response to growing concerns about the interventionist approach being pursued by Ed Miliband, whether on the economy or with regard to the so-called “nanny state”, Labour’s business spokesman Chuka Umunna offered this riposte. “We are not in the business of coming at people with a stick and forcing people to do things,” he said.

I’ll remind Umunna of this if Labour comes to power and attempts to ban alcohol firms, and bookmakers for that matter, from sponsoring sports events as is now being suggested.

I’M afraid the BBC reached a new low with its highly speculative report that Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams would not be charged over the IRA murder of mother-of 10 Jean McConville in 1972.

Such matters should rest with the prosecutors rather than the broadcasters pretending to be judge and jury.

But even more disturbing was that the BBC reporter was broadcasting from the Belfast street where there is now a mural of Adams that describes him as “peacemaker, visionary, leader”.

Talk about insulting the McConville family – or all those families who lost loved ones as a reuslt of The Troubles. Has the BBC no shame?

AT least Nick Clegg can still laugh at himself. After a poll described him as the best-looking political party leader, the Deputy Prime Minister and Sheffield Hallam MP observed: “I can guarantee you that my scepticism of opinion polls has just been confirmed.”

tom.richmond@ypn.co.uk