Last month Channel 4's Dispatches programme became the latest to go undercover to expose appalling and abusive 'care' practices. Dispatches were following in the footsteps of numerous other exposés from the likes of Panorama, in what has become a horribly familiar tale of failing care in care homes, home care and the NHS.
The company at the centre of the Dispatches programme were Bupa, one of the most trusted names in private healthcare in the UK. In the programme, the makers showed us glossy footage from Bupa's promotional portfolio that is designed to entice families into choosing their social care services over the numerous others offered by an estimated 20,300 providers in England.
Care is a hideously competitive business, one of the aspects of it I particularly dislike. And the lengths some companies will go to to persuade you that their care and their approach to care is the best out there almost knows no ends.
The clips of Bupa's promotional films could not have been more removed from the reality of the 'care' that Dispatches exposed. And I'm not remotely surprised. Back in 2011 when my dad's care home was taken over by a new provider, who are now one of the biggest in the UK, his care dramatically declined. One of the many attempts to reassure us came from the Regional Director's office - a DVD showing us their gold-standard model of dementia care, a programme that we were told would soon be rolled out in my dad's care home to revolutionise the care provided.
Fast forward to 2017, with my dad now dead for over five years after he developed pressure sores and aspirated on his own vomit five times leading to a catastrophic pneumonia, and the care home in question has gone from an inadequate rating to closure. As far as I know, the building lays empty and crumbling as weeds grow up around it.
As a result, to say I am highly sceptical about the way care providers aggressively promote themselves in slick brochures and films is an understatement. As the Dispatches programme showed, Bupa are very good at promoting their values, less good at living them in all of the care homes that carry their branding.
To be fair, while Bupa were the company at the heart of this particular programme (their response to which is here), I honestly believe many other 'big' names could just have easily been. It is my experience that, generally speaking, the bigger care companies become, the less they really understand about what is happening on the frontline. All the Operations Managers, Regional Directors, Quality Assurance professionals and mock CQC inspections form an oversight chain that is highly susceptible to failure.
As an example of what good care can look like, consider this: Many providers I work with don't have 'Programmes of Care', don't have 'Directors of Dementia Care' (hence why I might be called in as an external consultant, with a particular emphasis on the external element and the power of fresh eyes and ideas without the need to tread the corporate line), don't have glossy films, and often don't even publicize the fact that they are constantly engaged in improvement through working in a consultancy capacity with people like me and other external professionals.
They get on with their work quietly and with an absolute focus on the people needing their care and support. They are constantly innovating but never publically talking about innovation. They invest but never press release their investment initiatives. And the only rating that matters to them is the one the people accessing their services and their families would give them, not CQC's (which ironically is usually the best way to achieve a positive CQC rating).
I have always argued that if you are looking for a care home for a loved one, don't go for what looks good, go for what feels good. Feelings, emotions and instincts are all very powerful drivers of us humans and with good reason - they help you to see through 'publicity' and get to the heart of what a care service is really like.
Bupa, I suspect, are far too big to turn back the tide of slick promotion. And probably wouldn't want to. They'll attempt to ride the wave, pour 'x' amount of resources into the care homes highlighted by the Dispatches programme, and carry on with business as usual. But I for one will now forever associate them with a company who promote their values far better than they live them. A sad indictment for anyone needing their services in the future.