The decision to shut down a 'troubled' council-run care home must be made publicly and not “behind closed doors,” councillors have insisted in a row over transparency.

Charlton House in Keynsham was taken over by Bath and North East Somerset Council in 2020 and a Care Quality Commission report last year rated the home “inadequate.” It found that one person had been left sitting in urine overnight, another had an “unexplained bruise” to their chest, and staff did not call for medical assistance for seven hours after one person had suffered a stroke. The home has since been upgraded to “requires improvement.”

Now the council is consulting on proposals to close the care home down, but has faced accusations of a “lack of transparency” from one of its scrutiny panels. 

Council cabinet member for adult services Alison Born had not told councillors on the children, adults, health and wellbeing scrutiny panel about the plans to close the care home when she appeared before the panel in October, despite being directly asked for an update by Keynsham North councillor Alex Beaumont. The scrutiny panel had resolved to formally write to Ms Born to express their “disappointment,” although chair Dine Romero apologised to the panel and said that this action had not been followed through.

Now, appearing again before the panel at their meeting on December 11, Ms Born faced calls for the decision on closing the care home to be made in public by the council cabinet rather than to be made by herself as a single member decision, as is currently planned.

A single member decision is a use of delegated powers to sign something off without it going to a vote. Council officers said that they had taken advice and been told a single member decision was appropriate, but Mr Beaumont warned it would mean the decision was being made “behind closed doors.”

Councillor Joanna Wright said: “Because this issue has caused so much concern among so many residents, I do think this issue should be called to cabinet as a decision, not as a single member decision, because there is a lack of transparency.”

She added: “We don’t seem to be included in the process. It is clear that previously we asked questions on this; we were not answered in the correct manner. A letter was meant to be written, that wasn’t. So the whole process is not fit for purpose.

“There is no point having a scrutiny panel where we spend hours reading papers, coming to meetings, sitting giving you our advice if you then make decisions around it that don’t actually care.”

But Ms Born defended her precious appearance before the committee. She said: “It was advertised that there was going to be a consultation process. It was included in the report that there was going to be a consultation process. I mentioned in my verbal introduction that there was going to be a consultation process.

“But the consultation wasn’t yet in the public domain and the last thing we wanted was for the residents, the relatives of the residents who were in the homes, and staff who worked in them, to hear about something that had been discussed in the public domain in the scrutiny panel before they were fully aware of it.

“So I think it was appropriate that we actually discuss this now that the consultation has started.”

She added: “Although it was included in the papers, we weren’t asked a question on it.”

Ms Wright said that the panel could have heard her response in a closed session, but council officers said they had been told this was not possible. Councillor Paul Crossley said: “That’s simply not true.”

Councillors on the panel voted unanimously to recommend that any decision on the future of Charlton House should be taken by the council cabinet in a public meeting. Ms Born said she would take the issue forward and take advice on it.

If the care home is closed down, it would be re-used by the council “another purpose that meets our priorities,” council cabinet member for adult services Alison Born said. The care home’s 10 residents would be offered support to find new accommodation while staff would mostly move to other council-run care homes such as Combe Lea in Midsomer Norton and Cleeve Court in Bath.

It is not the first time the scrutiny panel has clashed with Ms Born over Charlton House. At a meeting of the scrutiny panel in January, where Ms Born had delivered an apology for the state of the home, the scrutiny panel’s then chair Vic Pritchard — who had previously called for Ms Born and council leader Kevin Guy to resign over the scandal — said that reports of what had happened in the care home “amounts in my mind to torture.”

The consultation on closing down Charlton House will run until December 18th. The consultation also seeks people’s views on plans to extend the care offered at Combe Lea care home in Midsomer Norton to younger people and to locate 25 dementia nursing beds at Cleeve Court.

You can have your say in the consultation here.

LDRS, John Wimperis