Hales Group Limited-South Tyneside, which provides personal care to around 266 residents in their own homes, was judged by inspectors to be overall providing inadequate care due to ongoing safety concerns including the correct administering of medication and required food provision.
Following the inspection, the company has now been placed into Special Measures and potentially has six to 12 months to make the necessary improvements or face having its care registration revoked.
The report stated: “People were at risk of unsafe care as rotas were not well-managed. People were at risk of harm as there was impact to people’s safety and well-being where calls were missed or were very late. People and relatives gave numerous examples of how this impacted on personal care and medicines.
"Systems were not in place for all people to receive their medicines in a safe way.
“Management of rotas was identified as the cause for most complaints and safeguarding referrals. However, there had been no sustained improvements since the last inspection to ensure people received safe, timely and consistent care.”
Part of the inspection involved consultation with relatives who described the “stress and impact on their emotions and physical well-being” as a result of the situation and the “ineffective communication with office staff and management”.
The report also highlighted how clients were “not treat with respect” with the timings of visits often changed or late, without clients being fully informed, and carers often changed without consultation. As a result, inspectors found “people did not all receive care from staff who knew them well or were aware of their needs”.
Inspectors also raised concerns with food provision.
The report stated: “Rotas were not managed effectively so people who required support with nutrition received regular food and drink. This placed people at risk of dehydration and malnutrition.”
Inspectors also criticised the culture of the organisation which it said did “not promote a person-centred approach to delivering care” and that most staff “did not feel listened to or valued”.
While critical of the organisation, the report highlighted that many families were happy with the individual carers themselves.
Inspectors stated: “Most people and relatives were complimentary about the direct care provided by support staff. They trusted the workers who supported them. They said staff were kind, caring and supportive of people and their families.”
The care provider was judged as requiring improvement following its previous inspection which was published in April. This inspection identified “multiple breaches” of regulation and the provider was subsequently directed to produce an action plan indicating how the required breaches would be rectified and by when.
During this inspection there was a follow-up focus on these breaches, including “ensuring people were protected from potential abuse” and “ensuring effective systems were in place so people who required support with their nutrition received regular food and drink”.
Despite some improvements, inspectors believed insufficient progress had been made and “the provider was still in breach of regulations”.
While “disappointed” with the judgement, the company said the impact of the Covid pandemic had been a significant contributory factor which had resulted in them being understaffed at the time of the inspection.
A spokesman said: “Since taking over the South Tyneside service during the pandemic in September 2020, we have been working with South Tyneside Council to improve the quality of care and support provided to local residents.
"During this time, despite the commitment and dedication of our staff, our work to improve the service was impacted by the ongoing challenges presented by the Covid-19 pandemic and a national staffing crisis in the care sector.
“The findings of the report, completed over three months ago, rate the service overall as inadequate. This is obviously very disappointing for us, particularly given the nationwide challenges the social care sector is facing.
"Importantly, at the time of the inspection South Tyneside was facing the highest levels of Covid infection rate in the country, resulting in over 14 per cent of our workforce being unwell or isolating whilst also experiencing peak levels of absence due to school closures.
"These factors also prevented resources being able to be deployed from other areas of the country to provide additional support. These details were outlined to the inspector during their visit.
“We are pleased the inspector has recognised improvements have been made. We remain committed to making continued and sustained improvements to the service to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the people we support, despite the ongoing challenging conditions of a new Covid variant and acute staffing shortages throughout the care sector.
Hales Group Limited-South Tyneside are contracted by South Tyneside Council to provide care for residents.
A Council spokesman added: "The care and wellbeing of our residents is of paramount importance and we are working closely with the provider to raise standards and monitor progress.
"The past 18 months have brought unprecedented challenges for all care and support providers across all areas of the UK. This inspection was carried out at a time of increasing Covid rates, during the peak holiday season and against a background of the 'pingdemic' with many staff being told to self-isolate by the test and trace app.
"Having said that, we expect high standards from our providers, even in challenging times, and standards fell below what we expect. However, the provider is working openly with the Council to bring about the improvements required.
"It should also be noted that the provider worked with the Council to successfully deliver a new service to support hospital discharge which has been very well received."