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Wednesday, 25 October, 2000, 10:29 GMT 11:29 UK
Nursing homes 'in crisis'
Nursing home
Latest figures show 750 care homes closed in 1999
A serious lack of nursing home places across England threatens to bring the NHS "to its knees" this winter, experts have warned.

Hundreds of nursing homes have closed in recent years with owners saying they can no longer make ends meet.

This has led to a large fall in the number of places available and raised fears that many NHS hospitals will be brought to a standstill over winter because they will have nowhere to send elderly patients.

The situation will be discussed by Department of Health officials and care organisations at a meeting on Thursday.

We believe that we are standing on the edge of a crisis

Spokeswoman for the National Care Home Association

Industry figures show that in 1999, more than 15,000 beds and 750 nursing homes were lost.

But the National Care Home Association said the situation has got even worse this year.

The introduction of new regulations, staff shortages and reduced funding has prompted many homes to close.

The problem is worst in the South of England but is being felt across the country.

In some areas, the impact on hospitals is being felt already.

A spokeswoman for the National Care Home Association said the closures will impact on the NHS.

"The situation in winter will be that hospital beds will be blocked by elderly people who have no where else to go."

'Edge of a crisis'

"We will be telling ministers that we believe that we are standing on the edge of a crisis now and if the Department of Health does not take action homes will continue to close and there will be a major knock-on effect on the NHS."

The association is planning to ask ministers to ensure social services are given more money so that they can pay more to homes for care.

Andy Allsopp
Andy Allsopp said more money is needed

Its members are also seeking reassurances on national standards on homes which are due to come into effect in 2002.

These standards include proposals to ensure nursing home rooms are a particular size and services are at a particular standard.

This has caused some owners, who believe that they will not be able to meet the grade, to close.

A spokesman for the Independent Healthcare Association, which represents 700 homes in the UK, added: "Local authorities can improve situation right now, today, by paying realistic fees to nursing and residential homes in the independent sector.

"That will help prevent homes from closing, and more importantly it will safeguard the future for many hundreds of thousands of older people.

"We are confident that in partnership with ministers that pressure can be brought to bear on local authorities to pay adequate fees, thereby helping the NHS confront pressures."

Andy Allsopp, from the charity Age Concern, said local authorities needed to pay more to homes.

"The bottom line is money and we would like to see more money actually being used and targeted at the right areas. The whole sector could use a lift."

He added: "We also want to see older people themselves being put at the centre of the process. If homes close it can be an incredibly traumatic time if you are an older person."

NHS 'will cope'

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said the meeting between officials and care organisations had been planned for some time.

"It is a routine planning meeting which has been arranged some time ago. It is one of many meetings to ensure that the NHS is prepared for winter."

She added that ministers were confident that the NHS would cope over winter.

There are more than 25,000 care homes in England providing help for an estimated 500,000 people.

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13 Oct 00 | Health
Elderly lives 'put at risk'
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