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Last Updated: Thursday, 10 April, 2003, 15:52 GMT 16:52 UK
'Crisis' in care for elderly
Nurse and woman
There is concern about the closure of care homes across Wales
The future of residential care homes for the elderly and how they are funded has come under the spotlight in the Welsh election campaign.

The Welsh Conservatives called for a 25% increase in the fees paid to private care homes, which they said was needed to stem a decline in the number of beds available and to ease bed-blocking in NHS hospitals.

Plaid Cymru claimed there was a crisis, and said it would provide 50 per week per bed for independent long-term care homes if it won power in the Welsh Assembly in the 1 May poll

But Labour said it had already injected a "massive" extra amount of money into the sector.

Market rate

Tory health spokesman David Melding said that more than 800 beds were blocked in the NHS in Wales on any one day.

The cost per year of a private sector nursing home bed was about 23,000, compared to 76,000 for the same bed in an NHS hospital.

"There's fairly firm evidence that the market rate is just not high enough to sustain the sector," said Mr Melding. "The economics of it are quite clear.
Cruel disruption to the lives of residents
Plaid Cymru's Ieuan Wyn Jones

"The care homes sector needs more resources. We think the most logical thing to do is to raise the fee levels, and then managers know what they can expect."

'Lifeline'

Plaid Cymru leader Ieuan Wyn Jones visited a home in Treherbert, Rhondda, and said his party would provide a 28m 'lifeline' to the sector.

"We are facing a real crisis in the care-home sector in Wales, with many family-run homes under threat of closure," said Mr Jones.

"This is totally unacceptable. Quite apart from the cruel disruption to the lives of residents who value the kind of homely environment provided by such homes, their closure also leads to serious bed blocking in hospitals."

Jane Davidson
Education minister Jane Davidson defended Labour's record

Plaid health spokesman Dai Lloyd said: "The government has long treated the independent sector as a cheap alternative to public care, consistently under funding independent care homes relative to public care homes while allowing public care home numbers to dwindle."

Labour said its proposal for an older person's commissioner - who would be independent of the assembly government - would help ensure that their interests were protected.

Education minister Jane Davidson defended the record of the assembly government on funding the elderly care sector.

Fee levels

She said: "We put additional money in last year which was to tackle bed blocking much of which was used to offset fee levels across local authorities.

We have to look at more imaginative ways of working together
Conservative Nick Bourne
"We consulted just before the election on statutory guidance to ensure that all local authorities operated at their best to ensure that the care home sector were properly involved in discussing fee levels."

Meanwhile, Nick Bourne, who leads the Tories in the assembly, visited a project for young people leaving care in Swansea, and called for greater use of the independent sector to carry out such statutory duties.

"There's always more that could be done," said Mr Bourne.

"It's partly resources but we have to look at more imaginative ways of working together."

Poll

A new opinion poll on Thursday has suggested that John Marek, who was the deputy presiding officer in the assembly, may now become Wales' first independent Assembly Member.

Mr Marek was de-selected as the Labour candidate for Wrexham and is now standing for the John Marek Independent Party.

A survey of 1,200 people by NOP for HTV appeared to indicate that he will beat Lesley Griffiths, the Labour candidate on 1 May, taking 40% of the vote compared to 29% for Mrs Griffiths.

As Britain absorbed the impact of the Chancellor's Budget, First Minister Rhodri Morgan said it was a "classic example of Labour working together to get a great deal for the people of Wales."

He said Labour in Westminster and Wales would "work together with the people to make sure they feel the full benefits of this great news."

But Plaid Cymru's trade union section Undeb criticised Labour's proposals for differing public service wages in separate parts of Britain.

'Disastrous'

Undeb chair and South Wales Central assembly candidate Leanne Wood said lower-paid doctors and nurses in Wales would be disastrous for the NHS here.

She said: "So much for the 'teamwork' between New Labour in London and Cardiff. I suspect that the Wales New Labour knew little about this policy, until their London bosses announced it"

In Westminster, the former Tory leader, William Hague, admitted that devolution had led to more democratic examination of UK Government decisions.

Mr Hague told MPs that he did not agree with the creation of the assembly, but the decisions he took as a Welsh Secretary were now subject to scrutiny - "a democratic form of control" - that was lacking in England.




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