EXCLUSIVE: Residents’ relatives should never be demonised, says R&RA

Judy Downey, Chair of The Relatives & Residents Association (R&RA), tells CHP families should not be afraid to speak about poor standards.

We in the R&RA hear only too often about the relative or friend who asks a reasonable question about staffing or medication or about care, where the unfortunate response is to give them a month’s – perfectly legal – notice or where their visiting is restricted or banned.

Our Helpline has listened to the sadness, fear, panic, concern and, sometimes, the desperation in relatives’ voices for over twenty years.   In all that time, the thousands of calls from concerned family or friends are mainly characterised by fear of rocking the boat and creating antagonism. We spend a lot of time encouraging reluctant relatives to speak out about poor standards.

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Visitors, it is true, have few rights in law.  However, the Human Rights Act is clear about the right to a family life and links with family and friends can be both life-enhancing and therapeutic.  Relatives should be seen as a valued resource to the home about residents’ tastes, preferences and histories.

What has happened to create those relatives labelled ‘difficult’?  Perhaps the experience of regularly finding your mother or partner who lacks capacity ignored or neglected makes their visitors express themselves in an upset and emotional manner.   The ‘disruptive’ relative is often created by indifferent and negative responses by the home.  Often it is only as a result of the action or complaint of a brave and concerned relative that the plight of those who have no visitors or kith and kin has been protected.

Demonising relatives will sadly have the opposite effect to that presumably intended:  decent providers – the majority – will be appalled and wish to disassociate themselves from such an intemperate view.   This approach risks encouraging the kind of defensive and unsympathetic stance among poor providers that gives care homes such a bad press.

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