Kent care goes continental

The crisis over nursing home fees is forcing a
council in south east England to look at sending older people to
homes in France and Belgium.

Kent Council’s director of social services
Peter Gilroy is seeking places in Europe because it is cheaper than
the UK. “I’m doing it simply because I cannot overspend budgets.
Gone are the days when you can look for places in, say, Devon. It’s
just not affordable anymore.”

In the last nine months the council has lost
more than 600 nursing home beds because home owners have switched
to residential care or sold off the property.

Gilroy said: “There are many homes that will
not take council referrals at all. Staff are having to make about
50 calls just to find one place. On a daily basis we are being told
by homes to remove our patients.”

He added that his staff were looking to
resolve issues over language and accessibility for relatives.
“France and Belgium are nearer to Kent than Devon so we view them
rather like adjoining counties. But nobody will be forced to go
abroad and initial feedback from carers has been very

Gilroy criticised one-off winter payments to
authorities saying that a strategic approach was needed. He said an
extra £7 million was needed to meet the cost of private
nursing homes in Kent on top of the current budget of £26

The council has written to health secretary
Alan Milburn urging the government to inject more money into the
nursing home sector.

Chairperson of the National Care Coalition
Nadra Ahmed commented: “It’s an appalling indictment of our
society. To send people at the end of their lives to another
country with a completely different culture is very wrong.”

She added that the inability of homes to
retain staff was the main reason for so many home closures.

“We as home owners can no longer subsidise the
care sector. Local authorities have been creative about how they
use their funds and have neglected the independent sector.”

Other councils are experiencing similar
problems. Two months ago nursing home owners in Devon threatened to
terminate their contracts with Devon Council over fees. Last week
they withdrew the threat, after agreeing a new funding package.

But Devon social services director David
Johnstone said: “We still have the threat hanging over us. It has
only been withdrawn temporarily on the understanding that we work
together to raise public awareness of the issue.”

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