The Commissioner for Older People for Northern Ireland, Claire Keatinge, has responded to the findings from the Independent Review of Cherry Tree House Nursing and Residential Care Home in Carrickfergus.

The Commissioner said:

"The findings of the independent review of Cherry Tree House Nursing and Residential Care Home are deeply concerning for me as they set out a damning catalogue of poor care, with complaints having been made by relatives of residents, staff and others over many years, and shockingly, consistent failures by the home to make the necessary improvements.

"Over 8 years Cherry Tree House continually failed to fully comply with regulations, and did not meet even the expected minimum standards of care required. Time and time again issues of concern about poor care were raised and the necessary improvements and changes not made or adequately sustained from inspection to inspection.

"The scandal of Cherry Tree House is that in spite of a system of registered owners and managers, care home standards, professional standards and registration, inspections, protections for whistleblowers, improvements and compliance requirements, no-one in Northern Ireland can be confident that nursing and residential homes are actually required to meet the necessary standards . Nor can anyone be confident that if shortcomings in care are found that they are rectified immediately and decisively.

"At the heart of this is the appalling reality that vulnerable older people lived in a care home in which some were treated badly, at risk of assault or abuse, not cared for properly and if they or their relatives spoke out some were removed from the home, and felt passed off as 'troublemakers.' The staff and relatives who raised concerns about care at Cherry Tree House felt bullied and victimized, ignored and disregarded with their concerns not properly addressed; this is shameful.

"This is a disgraceful account of a poisonous combination of poor management, bullying behaviour, abuse, neglect and generally substandard care by a care home, compounded by a regulator (the RQIA) which did not adequately ensure that improvements were made, and Health and Social Care Trusts which continued to place vulnerable older people in a care home that over many years did not even meet the minimum standards required.

"The registered home owner clearly disregarded the wellbeing and safety of the vulnerable older people in his care repeatedly over many years; he failed in his duty of care.

"The RQIA inspection reports highlight shortcomings in care at Cherry Tree House – yet again and again enforcement of actions required did not take place and issues raised in one inspection continued to be a problem at the next inspection; RQIA failed to secure adequate improvements in the quality of the services provided.

"The Health and Social Care Trusts which placed vulnerable older patients in Cherry Tree House relied too heavily on assurances Cherry Tree House management and continued to place vulnerable older people in Cherry Tree House in spite of its persistent failure to meet even minimum standards; they failed in their duty of care.

"Staff and agency workers who felt their concerns were not being dealt with by the management of Cherry Tree House raised their concerns as 'Whistleblowers'. They felt bullied and disregarded to the point that after raising complaints many times, they felt they had no choice but to make a direct approach to the Minister for Health Social Services and Public Safety.

"Today, Cherry Tree House continues to deal inadequately with complaints of abuse of vulnerable older people and a further failure to comply notice is in operation from the RQIA (Date of notice 28th May 2014.)

"What does it take to make a care home owner comply with even minimum standards and to adhere to their obligations under relevant law?

"Where is the accountability and why have there been no sanctions applied to those who register, inspect, own and manage failing and abusive care homes?

"Does the system not care at all about the reality of the lives of vulnerable, frail, ill, older people who need and deserve the very highest standards of care in their final years?

"Vulnerable older people must be protected - and the public must be able to have confidence that residential and nursing homes caring for vulnerable older people really do ensure the comfort and dignity of residents.

"I am calling on the Minister for Health Social Services and Public Safety:

• To apologise to everyone who lived at Cherry Tree House who suffered abuse, poor care, and had their later years blighted by cruelty and neglect.

• To accept and implement the recommendations in full as highlighted in the report to make sure that the protection of vulnerable older people in nursing care is improved now and for the future.

"Furthermore I am calling on the Health Minister to ensure:

• Full compliance at Cherry Tree House and allow no further breaches of standards or compliance with regulatory requirements at Cherry Tree House.

• Standards for the care of vulnerable older people are clearly set out for relatives and residents of nursing and residential homes.

• The rights and care needs of vulnerable older people are at the heart of planning and delivering care services; It is their needs that must matter the most.

• Complaints processes, safeguarding procedures and details of the organisations which can assist complainants are made clear to all residents, their relatives and staff of nursing and residential care homes.

• Clear and robust sanctions are applied to registered home owners for failure to comply with standards and improvements required.

• 'Whistleblowers' and residents or relatives who raise concerns about poor care or abuse are better protected from unfair treatment.

• Inspection processes are more rigorous, with decisive and timely enforcement action – with sanctions for non-compliance and adequate resourcing for the RQIA.

• Health and Social Care Trusts do not continue to place vulnerable older people in nursing and residential care homes where there are unresolved compliance failures and unacceptable standards of care.

• New legislation to better protect older people from abuse is enacted in Northern Ireland without delay. This should include a criminal charge of corporate neglect to allow prosecution of care home owners who abuse and neglect older people in homes they own.

"The rights and care needs of vulnerable older people must be at the heart of planning and delivering care services. It is the wellbeing of older people that must matter the most."