Standards chief issues warning

    The chairperson 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

    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 last 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 1,000 per cent committed to the
    outcomes of these standards, 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

    Part of the commission’s function will 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 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
    ineffectuals”, 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, welcomed Parker’s
    commitment to levelling the playing field between local authority
    and private sector homes.

    But Peter Grose, NCHA solicitor, pointed out that the act does
    not say the standards are going to be mandatory but that they must
    be taken into account. “If the Care Standards Commission wants 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.”

    Lack of capacity may lead to rise in fees

    The managing director of market analysts Laing and Buisson told
    the conference that dwindling numbers of care home beds will
    generate increases in local authority fee levels as the number of
    people needing residential care increases.

    William Laing said that as lower fees drove more and more people
    out of the sector, occupancy rates were going up, and in some
    hotspots such as Cambridge and Brighton, local authorities were
    being forced to increase fees to secure residential or nursing

    He admitted that there was a strong north-south divide, with
    care home owners in the north unlikely to feel any change in the
    economic climate for the foreseeable future. But he said the number
    of people needing residential care could rise from about 500,000
    now to nearly one million in 2050.

    The decline in the number of residential care beds had continued
    for a number of years, with a loss of some 7,300 beds from the
    independent sector last year, alongside a loss of about 2,500 from
    local authority homes.

    “We are very quickly going to come to a point where there is no
    spare capacity,” he told delegates. “At that point I think local
    authorities will start having to change their ideas about fee

    More from Community Care

    Comments are closed.