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Neglect 'contributed to deaths'
Solicitor Ian Christian speaks on behalf of the families of the victims, former residents of the Orchid View nursing home, outside the inquest in Horsham
A coroner has ruled that neglect contributed to the deaths of five elderly people who died after staying at a care home which has come under fierce criticism.
Penelope Schofield, the West Sussex coroner, said there was "institutionalised abuse" a t Orchid View care home in Copthorne and that its employees should be "ashamed".
Her comments come after a five-week inquest heard details of the shocking conditions elderly residents endured at the Southern Cross-run home.
Residents were given wrong doses of medication, left soiled and unattended due to staff shortages and there was a lack of management.
Call bells were often not answered for long periods or could not be reached by elderly people, and the home was deemed "an accident waiting to happen".
Ms Schofield said: "There was institutionalised abuse throughout the home and it started, in my view, at a very early stage, and nobody did anything about it.
"This, to me, was from the top down. It was completely mismanaged and understaffed and failed to provide a safe environment for residents."
Ms Schofield said it was "disgraceful" that the home, which has since closed, was allowed to be run in the way it was for around two years.
And she criticised the Care Quality Commission (CQC) which gave Orchid View a "good" rating in 2010 - a year before it shut.
She said: "I question how this could be the case and I question whether the inspection that did take place was fit for purpose."
She added: "It's a heart-breaking case. We all have parents who will probably need care in the latter part of their lives."
The inquest looked at the deaths of 19 pensioners at the West Sussex care home after whistleblower Lisa Martin, an administrator at the home, contacted police to raise concerns about the standard of care.
The coroner ruled that all of these residents suffered "sub-optimal" care. But five of the residents - Wilfred Gardner, 85, Margaret Tucker, 77, Enid Trodden, 86, John Holmes, 85, and Jean Halfpenny, 77 - died from natural causes "which had been attributed to by neglect".
The multimillion-pound home was said to have had a "five-star" feel when it opened in September 2009 which "seduced" families into believing it was well-run.
But one staff member at the £3,000-a-month home said: "It was like a car that looked good from the outside but it was knackered."
Residents were left soiled and unattended due to staff shortages while in a single night shift staff made 28 drug errors.
It was shut down in late 2011 after an investigation by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) and a serious case review has been ordered.
Bereaved relatives called on the government to usher in "dramatic changes" to improve care standards.
Linzi Collings, Mrs Halfpenny's daughter, said: "How the corporate failings of Southern Cross could create these events and how such terrible standards could go unnoticed by the authorities for so long has left us baffled.
"In this day and age you expect measures to be in place to protect vulnerable members of society from being subjected to such horrendously poor care.
"We believe dramatic changes are needed to the current care system, starting firstly with greater accountability for care home owners if they are found to be making unnecessary mistakes and offering substandard services."
Judith Charatan, whose dementia-suffering mother Doris Fielding died, said: "The Government needs to wake up and take heed. More funding, resources, better training and increased standards amongst those that work in this industry are the only ways to truly tackle the crisis."
The inquest raises fresh questions about the standards in care homes across the UK.
In 2011 the BBC Panorama documentary revealed systematic abuse at the Winterbourne View private hospital near Bristol, where staff used restraint techniques to inflict pain and humiliate vulnerable patients.
Six staff members were jailed and five handed suspended sentences for their role in the abuse following a high profile court case.
The Government has announced it will increase the number of inspections of care homes to once a year to improve standards.
But criticisms remain that staff lack the training, management and funding to provide proper standards of care.
The case comes after the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt warned that a million elderly people in Britain are left forgotten and isolated because friends and relatives fail to visit them.
A Department of Health spokesperson said: " The lack of care and concern shown towards these care residents was truly appalling.
"We have made it clear that there must be a sharper focus on taking tougher action when things go wrong and holding those responsible to account.
"Confidence in the regulation regime has been shaken, but we have now turned a corner. We welcome Andrea Sutcliffe's - the new Chief Inspector for social care - commitment to protecting vulnerable people from abuse and neglect, and to ensuring they receive better care.
"We need to make sure that providers and staff are always meeting the basic requirements for care residents so they are protected from harm, treated with dignity and respect, involved in their care, and given the chance to live a fulfilling life.
"We need to make sure everything possible is done to protect people from poor care wherever it might take place."