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Monday, 11 March, 2002, 11:57 GMT
Tighter rules on care home fees
Care home
Much controversy surrounds care home fees
A package of measures to try to stop some care home providers taking advantage of the government's 'free' nursing care initiative by artificially raising their fees has been announced.

It will do nothing to make good the money nursing home residents should have been receiving since October

Paul Burstow
Last October the government introduced payments to help fund the cost of providing nursing care to individual patients in care homes in England.

Some homes responded by raising their fees so that patients ended up paying the same amount as before.

Health Minister Jacqui Smith on Monday announced the following measures to clamp down on the practice:

  • Amendments to the care home regulations to oblige homes to provide a breakdown of their fees. This will make it clear to residents which aspect of their fees relate to nursing care and which to residential care.
  • A central core contract that NHS bodies should use as a basis for spelling out how any NHS nursing contribution received by care homes is accounted for by them.
  • A request to the chair of the National Care Standards Commission that any contribution to fees by the NHS or a local authority is recorded separately from other contributions from the service user, a relative or other third party.
Ms Smith said: "It is wrong to have singled out residents who were previously paying for their nursing care and who from 1 October last year should have benefited from fee reductions.

"These new measures will ensure that residents and their families receive comprehensive information about what their fees are paying for."

Campaigners have welcomed the moves to make the system more transparent but warn that they won't do much to help those who suffered from price hikes last autumn.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said there were no plans for a formal investigation into price rises over the last few months.

Free registered nursing care for all nursing home residents who were self-funding their care was introduced by the government on 1 October 2001.

An estimated 42,000 residents benefited from this and have been assessed by a nurse to determine the level of nursing care needed.

The care falls into three bands of 35, 70 and 110 per week.

Nasty shock

Sheila Scott, director of the National Care Homes Association, told BBC News Online: "We did not agree with nursing homes that increased their fees on the same day that the government introduced contributions for free nursing care. We felt that was quite wrong and unfair."

However, Ms Scott said that while she understood what the government was trying to do, making the whole process more transparent could lead to a nasty shock for ministers.

She said: "They may trigger a lot of discontent among residents when they realise that the real cost of free nursing care is considerably more than the contribution being made by government."

The NCHA estimates that the average weekly cost of providing nursing care is 110.

Flawed scheme

Paul Burstow, the Liberal Democrat spokesman for Older People, said: "Ministers have been warned right from the start that the scheme was fatally flawed.

"The limited announcement today, will do nothing to make good the money nursing home residents should have been receiving since October."

Mr Burstow said he had evidence of nursing homes putting up their fees and pocketing the cash rather than passing the money on to their residents.

"The government left so many loopholes in its plans for free nursing care it is hardly surprising some nursing home owners have driven a coach and horses through them."

See also:

30 Sep 01 | Health
What is long-term care?
01 Oct 01 | Health
Britain's ageing population
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