A PENSIONER at the centre of an investigation into the care he and his sister received at their Edinburgh home has died, as it emerged that an “alarming” number of complaints against the company responsible for looking after the pair have been upheld this year.
Since February, 18 complaints were made to the Care Inspectorate about Mears Group plc – the private company appointed to arrange visits for John and Thomasina Gibson at their home in the Capital up to four times a day – and every one was upheld either in full or in part following investigations.
The revelations, along with 90-year-old Mr Gibson’s tragic death, are likely to increase scrutiny over the standard of the service offered by Mears and the practice of outsourcing care services for vulnerable residents to private firms, as well as adding weight to calls for the council probe to be widened to examine care provision throughout the Capital.
Lothian and Borders Police today confirmed that they were working to establish the circumstances surrounding the care given to Mr Gibson.
It was alleged that medical staff were left horrified by the state of the Gibsons’ home and their physical condition, despite them being in receipt of the maximum care package.
Following the series of complaints that were upheld, Mears was handed no less than 25 requirements by the Care Inspectorate, including being told in July that a system must be put in place to evaluate the competency of its staff.
Lindsay Scott, communications and campaigns manager for Age Scotland, said the number of complaints “raised alarm bells”.
Lothians MSP Sarah Boyack questioned whether more should have been done to examine the practices of the firm.
“If there were complaints about this company, why wasn’t more notice taken and checks made?” she said. “We owe it to the Gibsons to find out why this service apparently failed so badly.
“This was a harrowing experience for this elderly couple and we need to make sure this is never repeated again.”
A carer from Mears alerted Mr Gibson’s GP to concerns over his condition on Tuesday last week, before a neighbour in Claremont Bank, Bellevue, made a similar call after noticing that he was bleeding.
A source claimed that the former engineer, who travelled the world with the Merchant Navy, would have bled to death had he not been taken to hospital. Neighbours said they were concerned about the levels of care provided by Mears.
Mr Gibson died following emergency surgery, while his sister – who has dementia – is being cared for in a specialist ward.
Ms Boyack has called for the council investigation to look into the wider system of care in the Edinburgh area, saying under-pressure staff are being forced to make shorter visits, meaning they are unable to carry out their roles to an adequate standard.
Senior Scottish Conservative MSP John Lamont said Mr Gibson’s death was a “truly devastating development”.
He said: “People across Edinburgh who are receiving visits from carers need to be sure not only are they receiving the best possible levels of care, but that any problems will be spotted and acted upon.
“Of course, the past record of the company will be taken into consideration in any investigation, but people in Edinburgh will see for themselves that this alone is a worrying indication.”
The city’s health leader, Ricky Henderson, said: “Our thoughts are with Mr Gibson’s family at this time. We will ensure the ongoing council investigation looks fully into all the circumstances surrounding the care provided and what lessons need to be learned.”
A Care Inspectorate spokesman added: “We have received a number of complaints regarding the Mears care-at-home service that covers the Edinburgh and Lothians area and are working closely with the provider and Edinburgh City Council to ensure improvements are made.”
Bernadette Walsh, chief operating officer for Mears, said: “We are very sorry to learn of the death of John Gibson. Our thoughts are with his sister, Thomasina, at this time.
“We will continue to give our full support to the council’s investigation and will look closely at their findings, to implement any suggested improvements quickly.
“We take the views of all our service users extremely seriously and every one is being contacted over the next two weeks.”
‘THERE ARE PROBLEMS IN THE SYSTEM’
BETWEEN February and the end of July, the Care Inspectorate upheld 16 complaints about the Mears care-at-home service in the Edinburgh area, and partially upheld another two.
They related to six cases in the Edinburgh area, with multiple complaints being raised on each occasion.
On each of the six occasions, practices around general health and welfare were looked into.
In three incidents, issues surrounding complaints procedures at Mears have been upheld and the company has been ordered to fully investigate all complaints at least twice.
Mears has also been told to improve communication by returning telephone calls, tell clients or their representatives about their service when it starts and ensure staff are aware of the correct procedure if they are unable to make a visit as scheduled.
Communications and campaigns manager for Age Scotland, Lindsay Scott, said: “The number of complaints does raise alarm bells. I’m sure the Care Inspectorate is just as eager as we are to see the results of the council investigation into the Gibson case.
“What’s happened is tragic and very unfortunate. It’s vital that we find out what went wrong and that steps are taken to ensure it doesn’t happen again. There are problems in the care system that we are noticing throughout Scotland. More and more people are getting a variety of carers.
“I think the Care Inspectorate have the tools at their disposal. We have to put our faith in them to look at this.”
Mears: The story so far
MEARS Group PLC has its HQ in Gloucester and is a UK-wide firm which employs nearly 13,000 staff. Its motto is “Making People Smile”.
As well as supplying care at home services, it claims to be Britain’s leading provider of social housing repair and maintenance.
The base for its Scottish care at home service – Mears Care (Scotland) Ltd – is in Glasgow.
In December last year, when it registered with the Care Inspectorate, it had 36 clients and 103 staff in the Edinburgh area. Neither the council nor Mears have revealed how many people it currently looks after.
The contract, which the company won in August 2011, is scheduled to run until 2014 with the option of a 12-month extension.
Mears is one of 18 companies tasked with providing nearly 24,000 hours of care a week in Edinburgh, costing £48 million over three years.