Ever since health secretary Alan Milburn foreshadowed the move in a
statement last month, the government had been expected to water
down its regulations on environmental standards in care homes. But
few expected the u-turn on standards governing space, baths,
doorways and single rooms to be quite so dramatic. The standards
will no longer be mandatory and, worse still, the consultation
document sneaked out this week seems content even to refrain from
applying moral pressure to observe these standards on owners of
homes built before April 2002.
Ironically, last month’s statement also contained details of
unprecedented investment in services for older people. It is
precisely years of under-investment that have led to the present
drastic shortage of non-hospital accommodation and panicked the
government into this unsatisfactory response.
There is no doubt that the haemorrhaging of care homes out of the
private sector had to be stopped. The national minimum standards
were introduced insensitively and thousands of homes, many of which
had much to commend them, were forced to close. Indeed, the
National Care Standards Commission had begun to work in a way that
ensured homes did not have to close solely on grounds of space.
Continuing this more gentle evolution towards meeting the standards
would have been far better than the government’s retreat, which
fails to uphold principles of dignity and choice considered good
practice for the past 30 years.