The Care Inspectorate has upheld more than 100 complaints against private sector care home provider, HC-One, in the last three years, the Ferret can reveal.

33 homes, out of the 44 operated by the firm in Scotland, have had 108 complaints upheld against them. This total is greater than any other care provider in Scotland.

Riverside Care Home in Dundee, Bullumbie Court home, also in Dundee, and Drumhor Nursing Home in Wallyford, East Lothian, are among care homes operated by the firm with high numbers of recently upheld complaints.

Other homes operated by HC-One have attracted media attention in the past. In Tranent, also in East Lothian, Tranent Care Home was graded as “weak” and “unsatisfactory” across all four broad assessment criteria by the Care Inspectorate in early 2016, and the firm was ordered to make improvements.

Although improvements were made by the end of the year, the home was still only graded as adequate on “staffing” and “care and support” in November 2016.

But despite the improvements, there have been more complaints. In 2017, the Care Inspectorate has upheld complaints over oral health, continence health, record keeping, the range of activities provided and staff communication.

In the most recent inspection report for the home, some residents gave positive comments about their experience staying there. But others were recorded by officials as saying, “sometimes when I buzzed… nobody came.” Another resident said: “They talk to me like a silly old woman. I won’t tell you who. I don’t want anyone getting into trouble.”

HC-One is the third largest care home operator in the UK, and its most recent accounts say that it is ultimately controlled by a parent firm called FC Skyfall, which is a “limited partnership incorporated and registered in the Cayman Islands.”

In reply, HC-One said it was committed to providing “the kindest care” and that it had an impressive record with the industry regulator, the Care Inspectorate, with four of its homes in Scotland judged as “excellent” in at least one assessment area.

Compared with care homes operated by charities, councils and the NHS, Care inspectorate data also shows that services operated by the private sector are likely to see far more complaints levelled against them. A larger proportion of private sector run homes are likely to have complaints subsequently upheld by the Care Inspectorate too.

Explore the care home complaints data.

Keith Robson, Age Scotland Chief Executive, said it was “terrible” that anyone should have to complain about an organisation that provided care for a friend or relative.

He added: “The Care Inspectorate website is invaluable and the map that The Ferret has created is a great way for people to see, at a glance, how the care homes in their local area are faring.

“Whether it’s a private, non-profit or public provider, it’s vital that people to take the time to look at how care homes inspection reports and how those reports and recommendations have been acted upon.”

“That anyone needs to complain about an organisation that has been entrusted with the care of a friend or relative is terrible. However, by complaining you can also help to highlight failings and drive up the standards of care so that no one is having to face sub-standard care.”

The care home with the largest number of upheld complaints against it is the Carnbroe Care Centre in Coatbridge.

It has accrued 19 upheld complaints and had four statutory improvement notices served against it.

During an inspection on March 4, 2016, it was graded as inadequate across the board. A follow-up inspection a few months later found the home to be “adequate,” and a further unannounced inspection of the home in February 2017, found further progress had been made in the home following a change in management.

Operated by another private firm called Alpha Care Services Ltd, whose website says it manages care homes of “exceptional quality,” the most recent complaint, also dated February 2017, found that inadequate background checks had been made on staff working in the home.

Less than a year earlier the Care Inspectorate had threatened to stop the home from operating altogether if it did not improve its recruitment procedures, staffing levels and they way medicines were managed.

A series of earlier complaints related to the general health and welfare of residents at the home.

No-one from Alpha Care Services responded to repeated requests for comment on the complaints accrued by the Carnbroe Centre.

Low pay and more care home inspections needed

Trade unions, campaign groups and Scottish politicians all pointed to lower wages and poorer terms and conditions in the private sector as the root cause of the disparity between private sector care providers and other sectors.

They all argued that this led to high staff turnover, low staff morale and therefore poorer care.

Rose Jackson, Chairperson of the Scottish Pensioners Forum said: “We would always be striving for higher standards of care,” adding that she had personal experience of working the sector.

She called on the government to provide more money to the Care Inspectorate, who do a “grand job.” More funding for the regulator would “drive up standards.”

She added that the Scottish Pensioner Forum also backed the expansion of the Care Inspectorate’s “Inspection Volunteer scheme,” where volunteers accompany official inspectors to help assess care homes and gather the views of residents.

Jackson argued that ordinary people can be more approachable than official inspectors, and therefore they may be better at gaining realistic feedback from residents who might otherwise be wary of making complaints about care workers.

UNISON said the combination of better pay and conditions and more widespread union representation in the public sector, explained why there were fewer complaints in care homes operated by local authorities and the NHS.

Danny Phillips UNISON Scotland spokesperson said that this meant, “staff tend to get better training, there is less staff turnover and they get time to build stronger relationships with their patients. And patients get a better service.

“Its UNISON’s view that like the NHS, all home and social care is better provided in the public sector.”

Its UNISON’s view that like the NHS, all home and social care is better provided in the public sector Danny Philips, UNISON

But Alison Johnstone MSP, Health spokesperson for the Scottish Greens, said that there was still a role for charities and other non-profit care home providers too.

She said it was “clearly a concern” that there were more complaints upheld against care homes in the private sector and called for all care staff to be paid a living wage plus of around £9 per hour.

She said: “High staff turnover rates and difficult working conditions don’t give staff the opportunity to build good relationships with the people they care for.

“We should also be looking at helping social enterprises play a greater role in the sector, and deliver more social care via publicly owned services, community-led models and partnerships with local organisations.”

Last year the Scottish Government announced an agreement with local authorities to promote the payment of the living wage of £8.25 to all staff across the adult care sector. Despite this, trade unions have expressed “disappointment” that not all private firms agreed to pay their staff the living wage rate.

Raising the status of social care as a profession, and attracting and retaining the right people, is key to delivering quality care. Shona Robison, Health Secretary, Scottish Government

A briefing note from COSLA on the agreement confirms confirms that it would be illegal for public sector bodies to make the payment of any specified wage rate above the legal minimums a requirement of any contract they might have with private care home companies.

Speaking on behalf of the Scottish Government, Health Secretary Shona Robison insisted that an earlier pledge to raise wages across the care sector did apply to private sector workers. She said: “Raising the status of social care as a profession, and attracting and retaining the right people, is key to delivering quality care.

“That is why we have taken action to protect care services, including paying the Living Wage to adult care workers boosting the income of up to 40,000 people. This commitment is in place for care workers in both public and private sectors.

“In the current year there will be almost half a billion pounds of NHS investment in social care and integration, underlining that we are treating this as a key priority. We are also working with COSLA and care providers to deliver major reforms to adult social care, which will consider workforce issues and new models of care and support.”

In response to the Care Inspectorate complaints data published by The Ferret, a spokesperson for HC-One pointed to the ratings the firm had achieved on private care website carehome.co.uk

They said: “We welcome feedback from families, residents and staff, and we are dedicated to addressing their feedback quickly.

“We actively seek their comments through regular relatives and Residents meetings, our HC-One ‘Have your say’ feedback tablets in every home, and through the sector’s leading independent care home comparison website carehome.co.uk, where our homes in Scotland have an excellent rating of 9.4 out of 10, and 27 of our homes are voted as one of the top 3 in their areas.

Staff at the company that publishes carehome.co.uk confirmed that HC-One pays the publisher of the site for ‘enhanced listings’ for many of its homes, although they said this does not have any bearing on the rating score given to a home on the site.

With regards to the Care Inspectorate complaints data, a spokesperson for HC-ONE said: “It is worth noting that these figures equate to an average of less than one complaint upheld per home per year for the three year period identified.

“We are committed to providing the kindest care, and we investigate concerns fully, working closely with all parties involved to resolve the issue in a timely and effective manner. We know we are doing this well as we have an impressive record with the industry regulator, the Care Inspectorate, with 4 of our homes in Scotland being judged as excellent in one or more quality domains.

“HC-One is proud to have the highest compliance rating of all independent residential care home providers and we take pride in being involved in Government initiatives focused on raising standards across the industry, so that Residents receive the very best care.

“We are one of the very few providers accredited with Skills for Care by the Centre of Excellence, demonstrating our commitment to developing colleagues and building a highly competent workforce for care delivery.

“We are one of the most financially robust care home providers in the UK and we are currently investing £100m across our homes, all as part of our mission to be the first choice care provider in each of the communities we are honoured to serve.”

This story was amended on the May 30th to clarify that carehome.co.uk reviews are not influenced by HC-One payments for enhanced listings. An additional sentence summarising the HC-One response to this story was also inserted beneath the 8th paragraph.