'Absolutely disgraceful': Vulnerable residents evicted from care home with five hours' notice

ITV Meridian's Joe Coshan speaks to the families and a former staff member affected by the closure.

Vulnerable adults were given just five hours' notice before being evicted from a special residential home in Kent, their families say.

Two Kent families were left in shock and anger after being told the home where their vulnerable adult children lived in Sittingbourne was being closed down.

Achieve Together, who ran the site, have apologised and say a thorough investigation is underway after Berkeley House residents' families complained.

One autistic resident's family says he panicked and had to be 'sedated' due to the sudden disruption caused by the move.

Michael Wakefield Credit: Graham Wakefield

Residents at Berkeley House were told at midday, on Friday October 29, that they would need to move out by 5pm that day.

Michael Wakefield, who has been living at Berkeley House for several years, has autism and suffers with severe anxiety, and requires specialist around the clock care.

“I was just about to go to work when I got an email from our care manager who said it looks like it’s closing today," his father Graham explained.

“So panic set in for us and how we were going to get Michael out. Fortunately we found an emergency placement, but they weren’t ready.”

Graham and Yola Wakefield - Michael’s Mum and Dad:

Due to the short notice, staff were still painting the walls of Michael's new home, as it had been repurposed from being a stock room.

The 29-year-old needed to be heavily sedated for the move to Essex, his family said.

“And when we got there he said ‘I want to go back,'" his mother Yola explained. "He kept saying to us ‘have I done something wrong? Am I in trouble?’, because he thought he’d been asked to leave.

“Achieve Together are not fit to run care homes, our son is in pieces and we’re gradually having to piece him back together again.”

Family portrait of Michael Wakefield Credit: Graham Wakefield

Graham added: “We can understand if there had been a fire or a flood or a rat infestation but this was a decision by Achieve Together to cut and run.

“Under the Care Act, anyone closing a care home should be allowing enough time for those people to transition and find suitable accommodation, but in four hours you can’t do that.

"He has been dropped into an alien environment and with autism that doesn’t work.

“I’m so angry. To think that a large organisation like that could behave like that with no consequence, you couldn’t evict other people from their accommodation in such short time.

"To to say ‘we can no longer meet the needs of the service and therefore we are de-registering seems to get them out of jail free and they can walk away.”

Paul & Cathy Green - Lawrence’s Mum and Dad:

Lawrence Green has complex needs and requires around the clock specialist 2-1 support. He has Pica - a compulsive eating disorder in which people eat nonfood items.

His father Paul believes what happened at Berkeley House is worse than the Winterbourne case.

An investigation uncovered abuse at the residential hospital, which treated people with learning disabilities and autism, in 2011.

Lawrence Green was one of the residents at Berkeley House Credit: Cathy Green

“Normally when something goes wrong in a care home, like at Winterbourne, it’s the staff that get hammered.

“But what’s different here is that this is actually the senior management, at board level, at a company that’s the third largest care provider in the UK and they’ve failed the people they are supposed to be serving.

Paul says he’s speaking out not just for Lawrence, but for the other residents living at Berkeley House who don’t have relatives to speak up for them.

He added: “I heard they were put on coaches and said goodbye to their carers through the window by putting their hands on the glass, that just shouldn’t happen in this modern day and age.”

Lawrence’s mother Cathy hopes changes can be made to prevent similar sudden closures from happening again.

“They’ve got no empathy and no feeling whatsoever for the most vulnerable people in our society and to me that means they shouldn’t be doing what they are doing.

“They should get out of that business, they have no right to be with our families who need help.”

Lawrence with his sister Lucy Credit: Cathy Green

Both families say their care workers and other frontline staff at Berkeley House were doing everything they could to support their children, but they claim they often looked stretched.

Following an inspection, Achieve Together say the “CQC and local authority partners determined people’s needs would be better met in alternative provision so immediate action was taken to instigate this,” which included finding “suitable new placements for every single person".

However the CQC told us that “It is not the CQC’s role to determine where people receive their care.”

Berkeley House was closed down in October

ITV News Meridian understands inspectors asked Achieve Together to make urgent improvements, but it was the provider's decision to immediately shut the entire site.

Hazel Roberts, head of inspection for adult social care, said: “CQC inspected Berkeley House on 20 October 2021. Following this inspection we imposed urgent conditions upon the service.  We are aware that some people did move out with immediate effect.

“CQC returned to the service on 28 October 2021, following this inspection we followed our normal practice of giving feedback at the end of the visit.  We are now compiling our report and this will publish once our legal processes are completed.  We are aware that following this inspection the local authority made arrangements for all people to move out of the service.

“Our role as the independent regulator of health and care in England is to ensure that the people are safe, and receive consistent, high quality care, and we work with local stakeholders and healthcare agencies to ensure that they do."

Berkeley House was locked up by staff forcing residents to find new homes

One former staff member, who wishes to remain anonymous, told ITV News Meridian: “They were not given suitable placements at all, people were put into respite and some had to go back to their parents because they couldn't find one."

'Respite', otherwise known as 'Respite Care,' is a temporary measure designed to give caregivers a break, typically for several days or weeks, at a day-care centre or at another residential nursing facility that offers overnight stays.

The staffmember continued: “The main house brought in the most money and without that income it wasn’t affordable to keep the other houses open. It’s absolutely disgraceful how they’ve done it, it is not acceptable at all.”

They claim the home was understaffed and that it didn’t have the resources to buy basic necessities.

“You can’t work under those circumstances when you’ve got seven people in one house and you’ve got one core staff member because they haven’t sorted out the staffing issues or taking people out with 70p in their wallets, you just can’t do it.

“It got to the point there was one weekend that we’d been asking all week for money and hadn’t been given any. We had a few people who wore incontinence pads and we couldn’t get any because none of them had any money. We had to call a relative of a staff member who stocked them to get some. 

“We were constantly putting our hands in our own pockets to buy basics like bread and milk because we had no money in the petty cash. All we wanted was the best for them but we couldn’t give them the best because of the facilities we were given.”

A spokesperson for Achieve Together said: “We are clear that the provision delivered at Berkeley House fell way below the high standards that the people we support rightly expect and deserve, and that we know we can provide. We wholeheartedly apologise for this.

“The circumstances surrounding the closure of this service are extremely complex and unique, and involved numerous parties. However, we completely recognise the distress and concern that the speed and nature of this closure caused for the people and families involved, and the impact it has subsequently had.

 “A thorough investigation is already underway to ensure all of the specific issues raised by the CQC and others are robustly addressed, and so that lessons can be learnt. These actions will be communicated with the people we support, their families, the local authority, CQC, and other relevant stakeholders, who we are continuing to work in close partnership with.”