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

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