As we sped south down the M6, we passed a very unpleasant accident on the north-bound carriageway, three fire engines, an ambulance or two and any number of police cars. Unsurprisingly there were miles of nearly stationary traffic. It was a bit of a reality check, as was the news of the Southern Cross care homes fiasco which could leave 31,000 elderly and vulnerable people without care and a home, and of course all their carers jobless.
I don't pretend to understand all the convolutions of the private equity companies that have played their part in bringing the company into this parlous state, but some people have clearly made a lot of money out of it, such as Wall Street financier who made £500 million out of it, and its former chief executive, Philip Scott, who sold his shares in the company for a mere £13 million four years ago.
And then there came the horrible Panorama programme about Winterbourne View, the "care home for adults with autism and learning disabilities run by Castlebeck, a company which has a £90 million turnover and runs more than 50 other care homes. The company charges the NHS and local authorities up to £3,500 a week to care for patients" (according to the Telegraph). The care there amounted to torture of utterly vulnerable people, here in the UK. The Panorama programme shocked even the owners.
I hope it shocks the government too, so that, if it decides to go down the line of using private companies, it doesn't invest in firms like those. I can't help remembering that when we were up in Stockport, by far the best old people's home was one owned and run by the local authority. It was the only one that invested in training its staff, for example. Not surprisingly, private homes didn't bother - well, training cost and didn't maximise profit. Now here's an idea. How about laying down minimum qualifications for staff in homes, and an obligation to train, in every contract? If we dogmatically insist on going down the private road. Otherwise I fear our health and care services could be heading for a horrible crash.