New care home standards are “non-negotiable” says commission chair

    The chair of the new National Care Standards Commission has
    warned residential and nursing home owners that they should start
    “preparing an exit strategy” such as the sale and closure of homes
    if they are certain they cannot meet new national care

    But she also made a firm statement that all local authority
    owned care homes would be treated as “new registrations” when the
    commission began work, and would be required to meet the same
    criteria for registration as those in the independent sector.

    Anne Parker, who is credited with having turned around the
    troubled Child Support Agency, will take up her new post this
    autumn with the launch of the Commission, a body which she
    described as “the most important new social care institution
    created for many years”.

    She told delegates at this week’s National Care Homes
    Association annual conference that the new regulations specifying
    minimum room sizes, among others, had been “a long time coming” and
    added: “Good business managers will have been looking at what’s on
    the horizon and they will have been preparing for this. It’s no
    good people arguing that they haven’t had enough time.”

    The new Commission will be responsible for registration and
    inspection of nearly 30,000 care homes, 3,600 domestic care
    agencies and 1,600 children’s homes. It will also regulate private
    and voluntary hospitals and clinics, nursing agencies, and
    independent and voluntary fostering and adoption services.

    Parker was clear that the national standards were
    non-negotiable, and that any element of “local discretion” over
    standards would be minimal.

    But she added: “John Hutton has made it clear that he is very
    concerned about the health of this sector, and he wants me to be
    balanced between all interest groups. He wants me to be sensible,
    pragmatic and even handed.”

    “Exceptionally, there will be a degree of flexibility over the
    standards,” she said. “We are 1000 per cent committed to the
    outcomes of these standards,” she said, “but if one of the bullet
    points is difficult we will look at your track record over a number
    of years and it is possible we will trust you to deliver over a
    period of time.”

    But she promised delegates that part of the Commission’s
    function would be to collate information on the sector.”We will be
    informing and advising government, which is vital – about
    standards, about difficulties, about whether people are going out
    of business.” She said that such impartial information could be
    used to help put pressure on government for increased resources for
    the sector, and said it would bring an end to the “well they would
    say that, wouldn’t they” argument frequently used against the
    private sector. “Instead,” she said, “we could say to government,
    this is what this outcome will cost, or if you give us this much,
    this is what we can do with it.”

    She also responded to calls from delegates for a more consistent
    approach to inspections. In future, inspectors would be required to
    “fall in the middle ground between the zealots and the ineffectual”
    she said, and a national training programme would be set up to
    ensure inspections were rigorous and consistent.

    Sheila Scott, chief executive of the NCHA, said she was positive
    about Parker’s role as head of the new Commission, describing her
    as “balanced”, and welcomed her commitment to levelling the playing
    field between local authority and private sector homes.

    But Peter Grose, NCHA solicitor, raised doubts about Parker’s
    firm stance on non-negotiable national standards. He told delegates
    that the government was visibly “back-pedalling” from the idea of
    mandatory standards.

    “The government has badly misjudged the sensitivity of the care
    sector,” he said. “The idea of these standards has already led to a
    catastrophic rate of home closures, and the government has had to
    backpedal on the dates for compliance.”

    “Section 23 of the Care Standards Act puts the physical
    standards into context. Nowhere in the act does it say these
    standards are going to be mandatory – it says the standards must be
    ‘taken into account’. If the Care Standards Commission want to
    dictate whether a room that is three inches smaller than the
    minimum should be disused, they are going to have to go through the
    appeals system. Nobody ever died of a small room.”



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