A year on, what lessons has Suffolk learned from problems with its care homes?

Mildenhall Lodge Care Home.

Mildenhall Lodge Care Home. - Credit: Archant

Providing care for those in extreme old age, and with serious long-term health problems, is one of the major challenges facing society – especially for an area like East Anglia which has a disproportionately high number of older people.

It was this challenge – coupled with a need for local government to cut costs – that led Suffolk County Council to take the decision three years ago to sell its residential homes to Care UK.

The deal looked good. Care UK would take on the existing homes, but within a few years all would be replaced by modern, purpose-built nursing homes providing facilities to cope with residents with the most complex care needs.

The first new home was Mildenhall Lodge, which opened its doors on June 17 last year. However just over 39 days later new county council admissions were suspended and the government’s Care Quality Commission (CQC) took enforcement action over concerns about the welfare of residents.

That suspension was only lifted in late May – and the most recent CQC assessment of the home says it still “requires improvement.” But that was published in May after an inspection last December.

A year on from last year’s issues, officials and councillors in Suffolk are hopeful that all sides have learned lessons from the problems.

The new cabinet member for adult services Beccy Hopfensperger said the authority had worked with Care UK to sort out the problems that had been identified last year.

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She said: “They (the CQC) identified a number of issues which Care UK have been working really hard to sort out. They have put an improvement plan in place.

“We did exactly the right thing. We suspended admissions when it was necessary and we moved on from there.”

Mrs Hopfensperger accepted that at 10 months, the suspension on new admissions to the home was long, but she said this was because there is a “very robust” monitoring system to ensure the wellbeing of residents before any new people are sent.

Other Care UK homes had opened over the last year, and while some had problems over their first few weeks, none endured as serious – or as long-term – issues as Mildenhall Lodge had.

Only last week Mrs Hopfensperger took part in the “topping out” ceremony for the new Care UK home at Glastonbury Court in Bury St Edmunds which is due to open at the end of the year.

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