Regulator to monitor Southern Cross homes handover

The social care regulator has said it will ensure that Southern Cross care homes continue to be operated to essential standards following the company’s collapse.

The Care Quality Commission was responding to Southern Cross’s announcements today that its care homes are being taken back by the landlords and that trading in its shares has been suspended.

The company has been working with its landlords to ensure the continued care of its 31,000 residents at its 752 care homes since announcing last month that it wanted to defer some rent payments.

However, the landlords have all now said they want their homes back. A statement from Southern Cross said they were making plans ‘to facilitate the smooth transition of homes to landlords and, where appropriate, their new operators’.

The company said around 250 homes are currently owned by landlords who are themselves care home operators, with the remaining number, around 500, finalising plans to take over with no interruption to care.

A spokesman for the Care Quality Commission told Public Finance that it would have to be assured that any new operators would meet the standards required before taking over a registration of that home.

He said there would likely be a ‘transition’, where Southern Cross would continue to run the homes until new operators were approved.

‘We have been working with Southern Cross, and will work with any companies that take over, to do what we can to ensure continuity of care, and that where registration does have to move to another provider it is done as smoothly as possible.’

Following the announcement, the Department for Health has reiterated that ‘whatever the outcome, no-one will find themselves homeless or without care’ due to the collapse.

Confirming that the department remained ‘ready to talk to all parties’ if needed, a spokesman said: ‘Today’s announcement does not change the position of residents. We welcome the continued focus on maintaining continuity of care and to transfer care home staff to new operators on their current terms. We have emphasised to the Care Quality Commission the importance of ensuring that the homes continue to comply with regulations and safety and quality requirements.’

The charity Age UK called on ‘everyone involved in the potential transfer of the Southern Cross homes to put the needs of the residents first’, after ‘worrying months’ for residents.

Charity director Michelle Mitchell said: ‘The current situation only serves to highlight the need for Monitor, the new regulator for health and social care, to be given greater powers including responsibility for ensuring the financial viability of care homes. Companies that are not able to show that they have a sustainable business model should not be allowed to run care homes.’

David Rogers, chair of the Local Government Association’s community wellbeing board, said it would work to ensure the continuity and stability of care for residents, and that they and their families were kept informed throughout any home transfers between operators.