Sixty Second Interview with Martin Green

By Maria Ahmed

The government has published its response to the Office of Fair Trading’s inquiry into care homes. Martin Green, chief executive of the English Community Care Association, the largest representative body for community care in the country, looks at some of the main issues.

The government has agreed to establish a “one-stop shop” so older people can get better information about care home provision. What problems do people encounter in accessing information, and what would you like to see in the government’s plans?

There is a wealth of good quality information available to older people, but at present there is no central bureau to obtain it from.  A one-stop shop has the ability to give all the relevant information in one place. The independent sector is the major provider of social care and it is therefore critical that the one-stop shop links in with the independent sector and has the most comprehensive and accurate information possible. I think that the initiative would work most effectively if it was administered independently of government. 

In its report on care homes, the OFT recommended that the government clarify guidance to make it clear that self-funded older people should have access to the same advice as those receiving public funding. While the government has said it will consider the needs of self-funded older people, it has not given much detail on what it will do. What are your suggestions?

It is only right that self-funders receive the same advice in order for real choice to be open to all.  Unfortunately the market is skewed, because under current arrangements it is left to many self-funders to pay more to subsidise publicly funded people.  ECCA therefore renews its call for an independent review of the costs of care in every local authority in order that the fair rate for care can both be calculated and paid. 

The OFT recommended that the Department of Health amend relevant legislation and guidance so that authorities are responsible for contracting and paying for the full costs of accommodation, including top-up fees, but the government did not agree that it was “appropriate” to amend the legislation. Was the government right? What impact will this decision have on older people who need care home provision?

The government did not think it was necessary to amend legislation; however it should be remembered that such decisions should be taken in agreement with the care home.  There are various anomalies within the government’s response but ECCA welcomes the government’s positive commitment to work with stakeholders and engage in an ongoing dialogue in order to ensure quality care across the country.  ECCA would like to see the true worth of care homes recognised and applauded and for the sector to work to shape the provision of the future.

The OFT recommended improvements to the complaints procedure which the government accepted. What are the current problems for older people and their relatives in making complaints, and what changes would you like to see?

In its response the government made some crucial recommendations including those of redress.  It is essential that all older people and their relatives have comprehensive means of redress.  Members of ECCA condemn abuse and have a wholehearted commitment to eradicate it.  It is essential that care homes, local authorities and the Commission for Social Care Inspection work together to find the most effective measures that need to be put in place.  It is also important to learn by example; many care homes have good practice and excellent systems in place for making complaints. Something as easy as a residents’ forum may have a big impact.

Some organisations have claimed the government has failed to tackle the “urgency” of the problems faced by older people who need care home provision. What measures does the government need to take as a matter of priority?

The entire sector was extremely disappointed by the OFT’s omission to examine the local authority funding and contracting of care in independent care homes.  Care homes are essential part of the continuum of care and it is essential that we get funding and thus care, training and staffing, right for this generation and for generations to come.  As the ‘consumer generation’ gets older society will become more demanding and it is therefore essential that choice in its widest sense is open to all. All social services departments must make a concerted effort to make people aware of their rights under the Choice of Accommodation Directive, which allows people to choose their care home. 

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