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EDITIONS
Monday, 8 July, 2002, 20:45 GMT 21:45 UK
Care home red-tape 'wrecking lives'
An elderly woman is helped by a carer
Tories claim red-tape is forcing care home closures
The lives of elderly people are being "ruined and destroyed" by the burden of bureaucracy imposed on care homes by the government, according to the Tories.

Many care home owners are forced to close their businesses because they cannot afford to introduce the "in some cases, unnecessary" and expensive new improvements required, Conservative health spokesman Simon Burns told MPs.


Too many elderly, frail and confused residents are seeing their homes ... destroyed

Simon Burns
But Health Minister Jacqui Smith dismissed the Tory accusations as merely "scaremongering".

She stressed that the government's highest priority was improving services for elderly people.

Only last week Alice Knight, 108, died after it was claimed she starved herself to death because she was unhappy about moving to a new care home.

Opening the Opposition-initiated debate, Mr Burns warned that the government's care home standards were threatening the future of homes.

Crisis

"Too many elderly, frail and confused residents are seeing their homes and their security destroyed in an act of bureaucratic vandalism," he said.

"No one would disagree with the need for raising standards where necessary or enhancing the quality of life for residents but ministers cannot and must not hide behind this to allow elderly people's lives to be ruined and destroyed in the name of heavy-handed bureaucracy."

Mrs Alice Knight
Alice Knight 'starved herself to death' (courtesy EDP)
Amid frequent noisy outbursts by Labour MPs, Mr Burns accused the Department of Health of being in a "state of denial" about the care homes crisis despite the closure of 2,000 homes and 46,700 beds since 1997.

He claimed some of the changes required of homes were "unnecessarily over-prescriptive and ludicrous", leading to a mass of regulations which were forcing many home owners to shut up shop.

"The future looks bleak", he said. "The closures do indeed have the fingerprints of this Labour government on them. They are all over them.

'Government spin'

"The truth is the over all number of beds that have been lost in this country since 1997 is 46,700 - a loss of over 8% of capacity in just five years."

Mr Burns said the number of care home beds lost was a fact misunderstood by the government which has repeatedly claimed only 19,000 have gone since 1997.


The old and the vulnerable who depend on the care system deserve more than that

Jacqui Smith
He claimed the figures had been "massaged" by government "spin", arguing that new care standards had to be introduced in a more "sympathetic and sensitive way".

"Quality care is not provided by forcing arbitrary bureaucracy. Quality care is not provided by officious inspections.

"Quality care is not provided by pretending there is not a crisis because there is a crisis in care - a crisis for the elderly, a crisis for the defenceless, a crisis for the frail and a crisis for the vulnerable.

'Bed loss small'

"They deserve better. This government is failing them. It is time for the government to listen, to note and to act and to act now."

But as Mr Burns finished his passionate introduction to the debate, Ms Smith insisted: "The old and the vulnerable who depend on the care system deserve more than that."

She was jeered by Tories as she claimed there had been a "small loss" of care home beds since 1997.

While 50,000 were de-registered, 31,000 new beds became available, leading to a net loss of 19,000 beds.

Alice Knight

"Of course any closures that result in people having to move are worrying for them and their families," she said.

But past ad hoc arrangements had to go and new care standards had to be brought in to replace them.

The minister promised that the government would continue to listen to representations over the new standards.

Paul Burstow, for the Liberal Democrats, said the care system was reaching "a critical point".

The family of Mrs Knight claimed the 108-year-old lost the will to live and stopped eating after she was moved from Flordon House in Norwich.

The Norfolk home shut down a month ago and Mrs Knight was transferred to the Laurel Lodge home, also in the city.

See also:

30 Sep 01 | Health
26 May 02 | Health
11 Mar 02 | Health
28 Jan 02 | Health
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