Long-awaited national minimum standards to improve the quality
of care for older people living in care homes in England were
announced by health minister John Hutton last week.
The 38 standards will form the basis on which the new National
Care Standards Commission, due to come into force in April 2002,
will monitor whether homes are meeting residents’ needs.
Broken down into seven areas (see below), the standards are
intended to drive up the quality of care, increase protection of
older people, and guarantee consistent quality of care in care
homes throughout the country. They follow a lengthy consultation
period on Fit for the Future, published by the government
in September 1999.
Hutton described the new standards as a “landmark development”
in the government’s programme to improve the care of older
“For too long there has been a lack of independence, coherence
and consistency in the regulation of care homes,” he said. “These
minimum standards, developed following extensive consultation, will
change that. They will help protect older people living in care
homes while promoting their health, welfare and quality of
Organisations representing older people have welcomed the
minimum standards as a vital step forward.
Director of Age Concern England Gordon Lishman said: “The
recognition that quality of care is about a variety of issues
including dignity, environment, complaints, and social activities
is a welcome advance. I sincerely hope it signifies a shift in
approach and that this shift is translated down to a local
But care home owners have continued to voice concerns about the
cost of implementing the standards which relate specifically to
changes in the physical environment of existing care homes. On
Monday more than 800 of them staged a protest lobby of
They claim that despite the government’s decision in November to
extend the deadline to reach many of the new standards from 2002 to
2007 (News, 7 December 2000), implementation can still not be
achieved without additional resources.
National Care Homes Association chief executive Sheila Scott
said: “The NCHA has always supported national standards and we
welcome the government’s attempts towards flexibility that they
have shown. But that doesn’t alter the fact that there are
financial implications for every home in these standards. We don’t
see how they can be implemented without extra money.”
Scott said homes were already struggling to keep their heads
above water and that the rate of closures had accelerated again.
She said the announcement of a rise in the national minimum wage
from £3.70 an hour to £4.10 earlier this week would only
make the situation worse.
“Homes cannot keep absorbing all these extra costs,” she said.
“This is a rise of more than 10 per cent, yet homes are reporting
that they are getting between a 1 and 2 per cent increase this year
for places funded by local authorities.”
The new standards form part of the reforms being brought about
under the Care Standards Act 2000 to modernise the regulatory
system for social services and nursing homes. They will apply to
all care homes in England that provide accommodation and nursing or
personal care for older people and, with named exceptions, come
into effect in April 2002.
Liberal Democrat spokesperson on older people Paul Burstow
welcomed the new document but called for more help for care home
owners who are going bust. “The costs of running a care home are
increasing much faster than the level of state support. While the
standards will attempt to improve care in the care home sector, it
does not address the funding issue.”
For full details of the standards see www.doh.gov.uk/ncsc.
Raising the bar for care homes
The new minimum standards for care homes include:
- Choice of home – covering information given to prospective
- Health and personal care – ensuring that dignity is respected
at all times.
- Daily life and social activities – providing greater choice
over day-to-day living arrangements including bedtimes, mealtimes
and social activities.
- Complaints and protection – strengthening the rights of
residents and their relatives, ensuring complaints are properly
- Environment – ensuring that residents live in a safe,
- Staffing – including proper training and employment
- Management and administration – ensuring that managers are
responsible and capable and, by 2005, hold a relevant management