Selfishness laid bare in one photo

Published by The Daily Mail (15th January, 2021)

Just six days ago, Pete Calveley sent a letter to reassure residents of his care home empire and their fearful families. He told them ‘being patient is key’ amid the pandemic, but insisted he was feeling ‘very optimistic’ about 2021.

The reason was simple: the vaccinations that have now been distributed to around 40 per cent of the elderly, sick and disabled people in his 200-strong portfolio of homes, along with more than a third of his 17,000-strong staff.

‘There is light at the end of the tunnel [since] care home residents and staff are a priority for vaccinations,’ wrote Dr Calveley, 60, chief executive of Barchester Healthcare, one of the country’s biggest care providers.

What he failed to mention, however, was that few people had better grounds for good cheer than himself, since Dr Calveley was one of the fortunate few citizens of our country to be vaccinated before Christmas, despite not entering his own homes.

And he is running a money-spinning company that handed hefty salary rises to its top brass, according to the latest accounts, with the package for its best-paid director more than doubling from £915,000 to £2,019,000.

Meanwhile job advertisements show the firm is recruiting frontline staff on the £8.72 an hour minimum wage, even when caring for some of the most vulnerable citizens in our country on night shifts amid the surging death toll of a pandemic.

Spin doctors for Dr Calveley, a former GP and vasectomy surgeon, insist their boss hopes to visit homes again soon. They also say senior staff at the firm performed a noble public duty by having the jab to reassure residents and workers that it is safe.

Few will be convinced. Not least when two other care home chiefs – one of whom was only 40 years old – have posted similar jubilant photos of themselves on social media being vaccinated.

The daughter of one Barchester resident with dementia told me her elderly mother was vaccinated a few days after Dr Calveley – but only once the virulent new Covid strain had begun rampaging through the care home and infected her.

Another man commented on social media that this did not look good when his father of 94 still had not heard when he was receiving his jab at another Covid-infected home run by the company.

My mother is 89 years old, recently endured cancer, and has not heard yet when she will get the jab – and nor has my daughter, who has complex special needs including epilepsy, while we wait for them to be available in the community.

In fact, that picture of Dr Calveley posted on Facebook, showing the stoic boss with one sleeve rolled up as his vaccination is administered, performs a different service to the one he’d hoped: it illustrates an uncomfortable truth about our crumbling care system.

For it serves as a metaphor for the priorities of the corporate fat cats and grasping private equity barons who have snapped up thousands of care homes, children’s services and mental health units in this country with such disastrous consequences.

The sector complains rightly about cash shortages. Yet some big players are fuelled by debt, hidden behind opaque corporate structures in tax havens and hoovering up fortunes.

Barchester is a private group owned by three prominent Irish billionaires – Dermot Desmond, JP McManus and John Mangier – through a parent company in Jersey with 76 firms in its complex structure.

The latest accounts for 2019 show a healthy rise in revenues to £657.6 million ‘underpinned by higher fee rates’ – which comes, of course, from cash-strapped local authorities and families forced to sell homes to help relatives with dementia.

Profits rose from £10.3million to £15.8million. Remuneration for directors, working in pleasant homes and offices away from daily pressures on the frontline, soared from £1.98million to £3.39million.

Yet this Cinderella sector has suffered shameful state underfunding for many years, even as billions extra were pumped into the precious NHS and politicians spewed out platitudes about the pressing need for social care reform.

The squeeze caused chronic problems, with inadequate provision in homes, collapsing support in communities and staff exploited on dismal pay – even before these services were then devastated by the pandemic.

Clearly too much cash is ending up in the wrong places. Another legacy of these giant firms was a shift towards bigger homes that they could run more efficiently, which led to many more fatalities when coronavirus struck.

The pandemic has certainly exposed a crisis of epic proportions in this sector. But the complex problems have deep roots – as shown by one simple image symbolising the corrosion of our social care.

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