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Monday, 28 January, 2002, 06:41 GMT
Elderly 'denied free nursing care'
Nursing home resident
Residents were promised up to 110 a week

Thousands of elderly people living in nursing homes are being denied the free nursing care they were promised by the government.

An investigation for the BBC discovered that private home owners are keeping some or all of the money intended for the care themselves.

The homes say many of them have already been driven out of business because current fees are too low to maintain standards.

In October the government launched a scheme to assess patients in homes in England according to the level of care they needed.

The real disaster is that care homes are going out of business at a time when many patients are waiting in hospital with nowhere to go

Oliver Heald, Conservative spokesman
Only medical care was assessed. Residents must still pay for personal care.

Those requiring the most nursing were to be given 110 a week, the middle group 70 and those requiring the least care 35 a week.


The money is paid to homes with the intention that it is passed on to their residents.

But the BBC investigation discovered that in many cases the homes' owners simply keep some or all of it for themselves by putting up their fees.

Relatives are furious.

Ann, whose mother-in-law Olive Kay is in a Southern Cross care home near Wigan, criticised the system and its impact on the elderly.

The government assessed Mrs Kay needed just 35 worth of nursing care a week. Her fees were 362 a week.

Case study - Mrs Kay
Assessed as needing 35 nursing care per week
Fees are 362
Nursing home is keeping the extra - meaning a total cost of 397 for Mrs Kay's care
But in a letter from Southern Cross, the family was told the fee would be going directly to the home, meaning the fees are effectively going up to 397 a week.

Her daughter-in-law said Mrs Kay needed high levels of care.

"She wouldn't remember to dress herself in the morning if no-one told her. She doesn't even understand her husband died 18 months ago," said .

She said even the 35 would have been welcome and added: "This money should be going to the people it's intended for."

However some owners claim they have no choice but to charge more for care.

They say the minimum wage and new care standards introduced by the government have increased costs and forced some homes to shut.

Dr Chai Patel of Westminster Healthcare, which has 100 homes said the tiered funding scheme had not been thought through and did not reimburse the homes for the money they spent on care.

Every patient in the company's homes will see their fees cut by 35 - whatever their assessed level of care.

He warned care homes were at crisis point because of all the financial pressures on them.

"This could be the straw that breaks the camel's back."

"All the investment that's going into the health service will fail. The social care sector won't able to support older people because it will probably not exist in years to come in the way we know it now."

Government response

The Department of Health said it has only just become aware that some nursing home chains may not be operating the system properly.

It is planning to write to the homes involved, asking for clarification of their practices.

But Conservative spokesman Oliver Heald said: "The real disaster is that care homes are going out of business at a time when many patients are waiting in hospital with nowhere to go."

He said 47,000 care home places had been lost because the sector was under such pressure.

And he said the government scheme was so badly organised that care home had to charge residents for the balance of their nursing fees."

Paul Burstow, Liberal Democrat spokesperson for older people, said: "Free nursing care is a cruel hoax. It is nothing of the sort; it is not what nursing care you need, but who provides it that determines what band, if any, you are in.

"The scheme has been poorly planned and badly implemented. As a result thousands of nursing home residents have yet to see a penny piece."

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