‘Council Forcing Care Homes Into Accepting Lower Fees’

A council in the north-west is to be referred to the Health Secretary over allegations that it unilaterally terminated contracts with care homes and re-offered the services at a lower price.

The action by Wirral’s department of adult social services has come under fire from the Registered Nursing Home Association (RNHA), which called the move a ‘slap in the face’ for nursing homes.

It says that with effect from this month, the council has terminated all its existing contracts with nursing homes and has given them a ‘take it or leave it’ ultimatum either to accept an immediate cut in their fees or to stop providing services to the local authority.

It means that every council-funded patient in every nursing home throughout Wirral will see around £14 a week lopped off the amount paid by the council to meet the costs of their care. In a typical 40-bedded nursing home, this amounts to £560 a week or just over £29,000 a year, the RNHA claims.

RNHA chief executive officer Frank Ursell said: ‘We regard this action as totally unacceptable. In effect, it means taking money out of the elderly care system at a time when food and fuel costs are going through the roof.

‘The excuse offered by Wirral Council is that the money that nursing home patients receive from the NHS towards their care has gone up by an almost equivalent amount. But that is money specifically intended to cover the costs of the care provided by registered nurses, not the rest.’

The RNHA intends to write to the Secretary of State for Health, Alan Johnson, to protest at the action taken by Wirral Council and to ask him to intervene directly.

A spokesperson for the Department of Adult Social Services in Wirral said: ‘following an extensive period of consultation with representatives of nursing homes in Wirral, the “fair price” model has been re-cast taking into account prevailing market conditions. This includes an increased contribution from the Department of Health for nursing care. This was never intended to be a windfall gain and the Department of Health expected local authorities to take it into account in price deliberations.

‘There is no change in the fees for residential care which remain among the highest in the region.’