Page last updated at 23:00 GMT, Tuesday, 31 March 2009 00:00 UK

Gap in care 'has to be bridged'

By Nick Triggle
Health reporter, BBC News

Carer
The regulator brings together health and social care

The gap between health and social care must be bridged, the head of England's new super regulator says.

Cynthia Bower, chief executive of the Care Quality Commission, acknowledged there were "pinch points" in areas such as hospital discharge arrangements.

But she said the new regulator would be looking to drive up standards, starting with a review into healthcare available to care home residents.

Campaigners said the focus on such issues was long overdue.

Charities representing the elderly and people with long-term conditions, such as diabetes, have been extremely vocal about vulnerable people falling between the gaps.

Too many older people and their families continue to be horribly let down by health and care services
Michelle Mitchell, of Age Concern and Help the Aged

Reports have emerged of people being discharged from hospital without being given proper support, which in turn has driven up hospital re-admission rates.

Some patients have even resorted to trying to claim money back from the government in compensation after having to pay for nursing care.

In an exclusive interview with the BBC News website, Ms Bower said that these problems represented the "biggest challenge facing services in the 21st century".

She added: "With the ageing population, more and more people are going to need access to that care that spans across both social services and the NHS.

"It is a real pinch point at the moment and it is up to the system to respond.

"I think having a regulator that covers both will focus the minds on the issue, but we will be following this up with assessments and audits which will look at how the two are working together."

Standards

Ms Bower told the BBC said one of the first major reviews carried out by the regulator, which is being launched on Wednesday, would be on healthcare standards in care homes.

FROM THE TODAY PROGRAMME

The review will be looking at standards across both the public and private sector after reports that residents do not get sufficient access to dentists, GPs, nurses and dementia specialists.

Currently, 14% of care homes do not meet national standards covering access, but the regulator will also be looking at quality of care and the choice that patients are being offered.

Ms Bower said she expected to find examples of good and bad practice, but she added care homes should be ensuring these "vulnerable people" were given exactly the same service as those in the rest of the community got.

THE SUPER REGULATOR
The Care Quality Commission brings together the functions of three regulators - the Healthcare Commission, Commission for Social Care Inspection and Mental Health Act Commission
It is in charge of inspecting, rating and assessing NHS trusts, councils, private companies and charities involved in health and social care provision
It has the power to fine and close services that are failing and is demanding providers meet certain standards before they can even register with the regulator

She also said the CQC would not be afraid to use its enforcement powers - it will be able to fine providers or close services when appropriate.

The launch of the regulator comes as the government has unveiled 16 pilot projects to improve joint working between health and social care.

About £4m of funding has been made available to the schemes, covering falls prevention, dementia services and end of life care.

Michelle Mitchell, director of the newly-merged Age Concern and Help the Aged charity, welcomed the emphasis of the new regulator.

"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."

And Mark Platt, of National Voices, which represents people with long-term conditions, added: "Social care and the NHS have struggled to join up services, but we are hopeful that having a joint regulator will make a difference."

However, not everyone is as confident. Roger Goss, of Patient Concern, said: "Merging the three regulators could spread the CQC too thinly and lose some of the expertise built up."



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SEE ALSO
Failing hospital 'caused deaths'
17 Mar 09 |  Staffordshire
Care homes warned over dementia
17 Mar 09 |  Health

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