Can Gerry Robinson fix care homes? Using only his outrage and a bucketload of TV trickery?

Can Gerry Robinson fix care homes? Using only his outrage and a bucketload of TV trickery?

The Guardian
24.02.11

 

Unfortunately it’ll take more than a compelling television series to change the dismal lives of dementia sufferers

 

Gerry Robinson’s two-part BBC programme, Can Gerry Robinson Fix Dementia Care Homes?, whose second episode is screened tonight, is a thought-provoking look at the £6bn care home industry.

 

Robinson, a businessman whose father had dementia, is best known for trying to turn around the management of the NHS on TV. He applies the same treatment to three struggling care homes.

 

It scores by being honest about the naked greed of some home owners, the long hours and low wages of staff and the heartbreaking emptiness of lives lived in bad dementia homes, an endless waiting for something to happen that never does.

 

Robinson comes across as genuinely outraged by the situation and moved by the plight of people with dementia. But the programme undermines itself through glib responses and cheap-shot TV documentary trickery. Gerry’s saintly interventions with residents are contrasted with portraits of indifferent, surly staff and a collage of shots of a favoured home suggests wildly unrealistic levels of staff and activities.

 

More seriously there is a disingenuous failure to acknowledge basic truths about the relationship between care costs and quality. The ambush and skewering of a breathtakingly stupid general nurse in temporary charge of a home and telegenic shots of the suffering there are frankly exploitative.

 

Watching professional carers will be left feeling devalued and under attack once more – and many relatives who have surrendered the care of loved ones to professionals will fear they have betrayed them. These are low blows to people who have already taken plenty they don’t deserve. The truth is more complicated and less easy to televise.

 

It’s great to see debate about care standards on prime-time TV, and some of this dirty laundry badly needs parading. Social care minister Phil Hope said at a conference last week that his wife phoned him after the first programme to ask: "And what are you going to do about it?"

 

But exploitation of private suffering does positive harm. And the suggestion that a lick of paint, some unspecified training and a breezy business attitude will set everything to rights is inane and really unhelpful.

 

Can Gerry Robinson Fix Dementia Care Homes? No, he bloody well can’t. That’s going to take an injection of money and training, a re-evaluation of professional caring, and the recruitment and retention of compassionate and dedicated staff.

 

• Christopher Manthorp is director of older people’s services for a large housing association. He is writing in a personal capacity.

 

Episode 2 of Can Gerry Robinson Fix Dementia Care Homes? is screened tonight at 9pm on BBC2.