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A quarter of home-care services provided to the elderly in England are failing to meet quality and safety standards, inspectors say

View profile for Mike Pemberton
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The Care Quality Commission, the government’s watchdog on Care Standards, has reported its findings of a sample of 250 home care supply companies who provide care to the elderly, vulnerable and the disabled in the UK. Around 700,000 people in Britain receive these services.

The report showed worryingly that some 26% of those companies surveyed failed to meet at least one of the basic standards set out as the minimum requirements. Many reported late visits, missed visits or rushed visits – all of which will of course affect the quality of the care provided.

Most home care is now provided via agency companies in the private sector, and many local authority home care services (the way by which large amounts of this care used to be delivered), are no longer in existence.

Although the direct delivery of the care is the responsibility of the company, people are unaware that the duty to arrange such service to people in need remains the duty of the state through the local authority.

Those local authorities hold more than a passive interest in such matters, as the statutory duty to arrange care for those people in need of care ultimately rests with the local authority in which the person resides, and the local authority duty is to ensure that suitable and proper care is provided to them.

The consequences of poor care costs the country huge sums in terms of creating crises for individuals, of worsening health, the additional burden on working families who have to provide the care instead and of the social and human cost.

A spokesman said some of the problems related to councils squeezing the amount of time they were willing to fund for visits. Councillor David Rogers, of the Local Government Association, said were trying to "stamp out poor performance".

But he added: "As this report highlights, even the very best efforts of councils are not enough to avert the real and growing crisis we are facing in ensuring older people receive the care they deserve. The stark reality is that the current care system is under funded and not fit for purpose."

It must be remembered that the vast majority of recipients of care will not have received such care for FREE, as they will have paid either the full amount of their care (tens of thousands per year), or will make a significant contribution to that cost via the local authority means test.

The private sector aim of running the care agencies more “efficiently” in a bid to regain commercial viability will – in many people’s eyes – inevitably lead to a reduction in quality, training, facilities and staffing ratios.

In turn this is likely to affect the standards of care which have been at the forefront of work developed via the Care Quality Commission (CQC).

Many people are already convinced that standards of care have dropped significantly over recent years as local authority budgets have been capped or reduced, whilst demands for community care services inevitably increases.

The whole question of care standards, commercial viability, care home closures, increased choices to remain in the community rather than residential care – and a whole range of associated issues - will only lead to an inevitable additional burden on councils at a time when times could not be tougher!

There are innumerable examples of poor care which I deal with every week. There are innumerable cases I come across where staff employed to care for individuals and groups are poorly resourced, poorly trained, badly recruited and appear only to meet a criteria predominantly set by matters of cost alone.

Do we want community care? Perhaps when the community begins to care (and agrees to pay for it) we may be able to say that community care for our vulnerable, needy, disabled and elderly is more than ideal aspiration or commercial opportunity.

By Pete Donohue