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Friday, 31 May, 2002, 09:56 GMT 10:56 UK
Government rejects care home warnings
A nurse helps an elderly woman in a care home
Care homes 'need more government money'
The government has rejected care home owners' claims that they are having to raise fees to avoid going out of business.

The Registered Nursing Homes Association blamed new government regulations, rising costs and inadequate funding from social services on which many rely.

It says thousands of pensioners' beds have been lost of the last few years and warns many more will disappear.

But health minister Jacquie Smith told the BBC that the policy of free nursing care, introduced in England last year was working "for very many people".

Fees increase

Care home owners say although government money has been put into long term care of the elderly, higher standards are being demanded, which they say is costly.

Fees have been steadily increasing, in some cases by more than 20%, and the state contribution often is now not enough to cover them.


We have taken quite significant action

Health minister Jacquie Smith

The homes' owners deny they are money-grabbing.

But the association is warning that many of its members will go bust unless the government does more to help.

But Ms Smith told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "The issue is about how we ensure that all nursing and residential care homes have the support and the sort of fee levels they need and recognise the care that they provide.

"And there's the slightly different issue about the nursing care contribution and how we ensure that the 100m we put into the system last year and the 220m which has been put in this year does bring benefits to those people paying for their care in nursing homes.

"We have taken quite significant action both that there is clarity for people paying their own fees and that they will see benefit from it."

Ms Smith said it was unacceptable for homes to raise fees by the extra amount older people now received from the NHS without improving the service they provide.

"I don't think that's on, which is why we have already issued a central contract that we are expecting local health bodies to use in their contracting with nursing homes.

Information

She added measures, such as the National Care Standards Commission had been introduced to ensure elderly people had high quality care, and that they were told where contributions to their fees were coming from.

Homes may also be asked to provide a break down of their fees.

Ms Smith said care home costs were increasing: "That is why, when we made available last October an extra 300 million to ensure people do not get stuck in hospital when they should be getting care elsewhere, our evidence suggests that probably somewhere around half of that is going into care homes through increased fees and additional places."

Paul Burstow MP, Liberal Democrat spokesman on older people, said: "Ministers have had their heads in the sand for far too long.

"The loss of care homes has been unforeseen, unstructured, and unplanned in Whitehall.

"The victims are vulnerable elderly people forced to pack up and leave what has become their home. For some the trauma is too much and costs them their lives.

"We are in real danger of ministers' inaction turning the crisis in the care home sector into a meltdown."

Conservative health spokesman, Simon Burns MP, said: "This is a fiasco.

"The policy of 'free nursing care' is not what the government claimed it to be and it seems certain to worsen not improve the situation."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Niall Dickson
"Owners of nursing homes and relatives agree that the government's claim to provide free care is a con"
UK Health Minister Jacqui Smith
"We need to be sure that individual older people are getting the care they need, when they need it"
The government's changes to long term care funding start on Monday

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