Minister Steps Into Row Over Elderly Care Homes

The Government has intervened in the Essex County Council elderly care home crisis, which threatens the closure of Saffron Walden’s Stanley Wilson Lodge. Social Services Minister Ivan Lewis has now pledged to call the authority and the Commission for Social Care Inspection to a meeting in the new year.

He will question them about the GMB union’s concerns for the level of care provided at 10 homes across the county – including the Four Acres facility – which are run by Excelcare.

Essex privatised one of its homes in each district last year in a deal with the parent company. Since then, staff have been asked to accept reduced pay and working conditions in a bid to balance the books and stave off closures. Those employees who refused faced the sack last month.

A crisis review – which Excelcare declined to attend – was carried out by the council as a result.

The minister has already told the GMB that he is powerless to tackle Excelcare directly over allegations of low quality care, but he can look at how the county checked the company’s track record before handing over the homes. Likewise, he confirmed that the CSCI could only evaluate individual homes and not take into account the care offered by the same provider at different locations.

The Government also faces further questions from the GMB union after apparently offering conflicting answers about care regulation.

Essex organiser Mick Ainslie said: “First we were told by a spokesperson from the Department of Health that there is no list of approved care home contractors. Then, in answer to a question in the House of Lords, we were told there is a list of approved contractors.”

He continued: “The minister (Ivan Lewis) said there is no list of approved care home contractors ‘as such’. This will not do. GMB wants to know the exact procedure to make sure the care of our elderly is checked as being of high quality. The turnover for the private sector care homes is estimated by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) to be more than £8 billion per annum. That is money found by the British tax payer. It must be sure that the system of accountability for that money is robust.”

Essex councillor Sarah Candy, cabinet member for adult social care, said: “Essex County Council, along with the Commission for Social Care Inspection (CSCI), has visited and checked all of the homes run by Excelcare and has found no cause for concern around the quality of care being provided.

“Indeed, the GMB attended the meeting in public here at County Hall and heard all of the evidence from the reports made after the announced and unannounced visits. If there was any evidence that had given the county council cause for concern, action would have been taken.”

She added: “I can assure residents that we are in constant contact with the company and are working jointly with them to make sure that the levels of service and care we expect are maintained. This would include dealing with any quality concerns that may arise as a result of any staffing issues.”