An 88-year-old woman with dementia was physically and mentally abused at a luxury care home charging residents close to £100,000 a year, the Guardian can reveal.
Staff misconduct was exposed by secret filming inside the home run by Signature Senior Lifestyle, which operates 36 luxury facilities mostly in the south of England.
It has admitted that Ann King was mistreated at Reigate Grange in Surrey earlier this year.
Distressing footage from a covert camera inside her room shows:
Care staff handling King roughly, causing her to cry out in distress. On one occasion she was left on the floor for 50 minutes.
King being taunted, mocked and sworn at when she was confused and frightened.
The retired nurse being assaulted by a cleaner, who hits her with a rag used to clean a toilet while she is lying in bed.
The cleaner threatening to empty a bin on the pensioner’s head and making indecent sexual gestures in her face.
The abuse was exposed by King’s children, Richard Last and Clare Miller. They became so concerned about her wellbeing at the care home, where she lived from January 2021 to March 2022, that they installed a hidden camera on her bedside table.
They have shared the footage because they fear what happened to their mother may not be an isolated incident, and because: “She has always been horrified by this type of thing and we felt she would have wanted us to show this is going on.”
Signature is described as the most expensive care operator in the UK by LaingBuisson, a market research company, and looks after more than 2,000 residents. It is owned by Revera, a Canada-based care company with more than 550 facilities worldwide, which in turn is wholly owned by a £150bn Canadian institutional pension fund investor. Reigate Grange is one of an expanding chain of luxury homes operated by Signature that promise “luxury living, exceptional care”.
Jayne Easterbrook, a nurse for 42 years and an expert in training care workers, described what she saw in the footage as abuse and said the carers were “aggressive”, “violent” and “in the wrong job”.
In one clip, when Ann was disoriented and asked “Where am I?”, a male care worker crouched down close to her face and said: “You’re in a fucking home.”
Surrey police were called to investigate the footage. The cleaner, an agency worker, admitted common assault in early summer and has been blocked from working for the care company.
One care worker has been fired, two resigned when confronted with the allegations, and one has been retrained. The manager of the care home at the time now runs another care home operated by Signature. It said it had full confidence in the manager as a “committed and values-driven home leader”, and that no investigations had identified concerns about their performance.
Signature apologised to the family and insisted the “reprehensible” behaviour was “committed by rogue individuals”. But the family believe it was the result of wider cultural problems.
The latest Care Quality Commission inspection report, published in April after King left the home, cut its rating from “good” to “requires improvement”. It found leadership was “inconsistent” and “leaders and the culture they created did not always support the delivery of high-quality, person-centred care”. Signature strongly denies the conduct was systemic or linked to the management of the home or organisation.
King is now being cared for at home by her daughter, but appears to have been affected by the experiences, which included having her bed shaken, being yanked into a sitting position by her pyjama top and shoved backwards into a chair.
“She has asked me to hide in the wardrobe to ‘stop the people coming in at night and hurting me’,” Miller said.
The recordings showed how carers responsible for checking her incontinence pads in the middle of the night rolled her roughly and restrained her, causing her to cry out in distress, and laughed while doing so.
As well as flicking King with the toilet rag, the cleaner aggressively fist-bumped her causing her to complain “You’re hurting me”, waggled his hips suggestively in her face and made a masturbating gesture at her.
After the family showed Surrey police some of the footage he was interviewed under caution, admitted common assault and received a “community resolution” – an out-of-court arrangement.
On a separate occasion, a female care worker ignored King’s repeated calls for attention and turned up the music in her room which drowned her out. The footage also showed kind behaviour from other staff, and Last was keen to stress that other workers in the home were caring.
“When we saw this abuse it emotionally upset both of us and made us very, very angry,” Last said of himself and his sister.
There are around 900,000 people with dementia in the UK and demand is surging for specialist end of life care at a time when there are more than 160,000 social care staff vacancies.
King’s fees were £8,000 a month – more than three times higher than a typical local authority care home. Signature recently acquired two other chains, Sunrise Senior Living and Gracewell Healthcare. Reigate Grange has marketed itself as being akin to a luxury cruise ship and Signature has properties in affluent areas, such as Sonning, in Berkshire, and Virginia Water, in Surrey. It is building three new facilities a year, including on The Bishops Avenue, also known as “billionaires’ row”, in north London.
Signature has since offered an apology to King and her family, waiving £9,800 in outstanding fees and offering £5,000 in compensation “in full and final settlement of all and any claims” they may make about her care. The family has rejected the compensation.
Last, an electrician from Surrey, replied in writing: “My mum did not pay to get abused at your care home and the … poor care has made our mum suffer and us as a family.”
Signature pays care workers £12 an hour, £2.50 more than the average in England, and said it trains each worker in skills that include moving and handling residents, privacy and dignity, and dementia awareness.
A spokesperson for Signature said: “The behaviour of the individuals concerned was reprehensible, and fell far short of the standards of care we provide our residents every day. We would like to again apologise to Mrs King and her family, and reassure our community that these actions were committed by rogue individuals.”
When shown the footage by the family in May it said it alerted the relevant authorities and police, suspended the staff and removed the agency worker. It deployed an undercover supervisor and told other residents and families “that significant concerns had been identified at the home and encouraged them to report any concerns they may have to the council’s safeguarding team”.
“Separate independent reviews were also undertaken by the council safeguarding team and Care Quality Commission (CQC). The individuals no longer work for us and they have been reported to the Disclosure and Barring Service to prevent them working in care again. We will fully support any legal action taken against them.
“We remain committed to doing everything we can to deliver the highest quality care, and to ensuring peace of mind for the residents who make their home with us, and their loved ones.”
A surprise night time inspection by the CQC in March “prompted by information of concern” from several families, including King’s, Surrey county council and the local clinical commissioning group exposed “several risks to the residents”, said Deanna Westwood, a director of operations at the regulator. The inspection report found “risks to people’s safety and wellbeing were not always robustly monitored”.
Signature stressed the home was still ranked “good” in three out of five categories, and claimed the criticisms were minor and “easily addressable”. It said the CQC found staff “were aware of their responsibilities to keep people safe from the risk of abuse” and said “the actions of a few rogue individuals should not be construed as being representative of the wider staff team, or Signature as a whole”.
Surrey county council said it was “monitoring the provider” and reviewing information recently provided by the family, which the Guardian understands includes all the undercover film footage and other documents covering King’s stay at Reigate Grange.