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Care homes come under pressure to cut costs

Care for the elderly and infirm could be threatened by the recession as care homes come under pressure to cut costs

From The Times

Care for the elderly and infirm could be threatened by the recession as care homes come under pressure to cut costs, the head of a new “super-regulator” told The Times.

From today, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) will regulate the work of 2.8 million staff in the NHS, local councils and private sector as the watchdog for health and social care in England. Its remit will span everything from the quality of hospital food to mortality rates after surgery and the detention of patients under the Mental Health Act.

In an interview with The Times, Baroness Young of Old Scone, the chairwoman of the Care Quality Commission, said that she was most worried about the quality of social care services as large care home providers or family-run businesses might “cut corners” because of the recession.

From next year, the record growth of public spending is expected to be curbed, and “everybody’s going to be strapped for cash”, she said.

“The local authorities already have less money and they’re beginning to put pressure on fees to go down, and as a result providers have got to find ways of providing care more cheaply, and cutting costs can sometimes mean cutting corners.

“We’ve got to keep a really close eye on this,” she added.

“Self-funders are going to have a tough time as their money’s not going to have the same purchasing power, [while] some of the large private providers in the social market are going to be quite heavily pressurised by their funding and business models.

We’ve got to make sure we don’t see a big reduction in the market or a major provider going belly up.”

Her comments come after more than 4,000 people signed a petition in support of The Times’s Care Homes in Crisis campaign, which is calling for higher national minimum standards in all care homes, and support for all families with loved ones to look after, even if they are paying their own way.

The petition, which also calls for better-trained staff and an obligation on local authorities to provide proper information for families seeking care, will be sent to Phil Hope, the Care Services Minister, who is drafting a Green Paper on the future of social care funding.

Lady Young also signalled a major overhaul of NHS regulation, which could lead to the “annual health check” of health trusts being scrapped in favour of a rolling system of inspection and validation based on published “risk profiles” for every trust, clinic or surgery.From next year, major health trusts and social care providers in England will have to register with the CQC on a range of required standards. All 8,500 GP practices and 9,000 dental practices will go through a similar process by the following year.

Poorly performing organisations that fail to improve could face temporary ward closures or fines of up to £50,000 under the commission’s new powers.

Lessons from recent cases such as the investigation into Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust — where at least 400 patients died because of “appalling” failures in emergency care — include picking up problems much earlier through regular inspections and analysis of data such as mortality rates, Lady Young said.

In a joint statement, the charities Age Concern and Help the Aged welcomed the priorities of the CQC.

“Too many older people and their families continue to be horribly let down by health and care services. The quality of care they experience is all too often not up to scratch, so it’s encouraging that this is one of the new commission’s first reviews,” they said.

April 2010