There has been an abundance of recent press coverage concerned with allegations of abuse within the care sector. Programmes such as Panorama have focussed on the services provided by the sector and its regulatory requirements. Following this publicity there has been an increase in allegations of abuse.
Should your care home find itself in an unfortunate position of handling such a claim, preparation is key so that it can deal with such claims to the best of its ability:
- Understanding the background
Your management team should have as much information as possible concerning any issues or complaints that have been previously raised and which may provide the basis for a future claim.
You should check if there is any limit on your insurers’ obligations to accept cover of a claim brought against the care home, years after the events that form the basis of such claim and whether all staff and external service providers are adequately covered. Notification should be given to your insurers as soon as you become aware of any claim and have had the opportunity to take legal advice.
- Reputational Issues
Such claims could have an impact on the home’s reputation if details were to become public. You should be prepared to handle enquiries by having a designated spokesperson who is properly briefed to ensure the message being provided is consistent.
- Information Requests
You should be alive to the possibility that an information request may be a preparatory step ahead of a claim being brought against the home. It is crucial to understand your obligations in relation to these requests and what you are permitted and/or obliged to do with the information that you hold. Requests for personal information may come from a multiple of sources (such as Police, local authorities and individuals), and you should be equipped to handle these effectively by having an information policy in place and a designated staff member who understands the specific steps that must be followed.
- Information requests in relation to deceased persons
You should be aware that duties of confidentiality extend beyond the death of a resident. Health records and social care records are stringently protected and extreme care should be exercised before disclosing any such information to third parties. Disclosure of health records can lead to claims of breach of confidence if they are disclosed incorrectly. Access to health records is governed by specific legislation and only certain individuals have a right of access. You should be aware of what can be released and in what circumstances you can refuse to release such information.
- Notifying the relevant authorities
You should be aware of any statutory obligations and when you are obliged to notify local authorities, social services, the CQC or the Police about allegations. Additionally, should allegations be made against a current member of staff, the care home should consider whether suspension is appropriate and whether an internal investigation should be carried out.
Having awareness of the issues and being prepared to handle such allegations is key to minimising the risks that they present. Bond Dickinson has particular expertise in handling information requests in these circumstances and in helping Care Sector clients to put in place procedures to effectively manage these scenarios.