Socialist Worker

Firms care for profit, not old

Issue No. 1803

PRIVATE NURSING home owners had the nerve to complain last week that they are being driven out of business. The Registered Nursing Homes Association said that owners were forced to close homes because of government regulations and lack of funding. But many of them have hiked up fees for residents.

This has wiped out the government's payments to residents that were supposed to provide free nursing care. 'People are very, very angry, having being promised by the government that they would see the benefit of this money,' said a spokesperson for charity Age Concern.

The home owners blame government regulations designed to protect the elderly from dire conditions in some private nursing homes. The owners also moan about having to pay care assistants the minimum wage. Even this meagre sum is more than the slave labour wages they paid to care workers in the past. The number of care homes shutting has caused a crisis.

Britain will run out of elderly care home places in four years, according to consultancy firm William Laing. This is down to the logic of privatisation. Some 86 percent of care homes are in private sector hands. The big multinational companies, like Westminster Healthcare (see below) have taken over large parts of the care business, driving smaller homes out of business.

The big care homes companies now control over 40 percent of nursing home beds. The victims are vulnerable elderly people who are kicked out or shunted from home to home. The staff suffer cuts in wages and conditions.

'The home owners are complaining that there's no profit in looking after pensioners and they're closing their doors,' explained Joe Harris from the National Pensioners' Convention. 'In 2000, 760 homes closed, with the loss of nearly 10,000 beds. 'What we now have is a cycle of inadequacy in which nursing homes claim they can't afford to provide the care that people need. Local authorities say they don't have enough money to pay the care homes while older patients are forced to remain in hospital longer than is necessary because care services are not available in the community. And the government blames pensioners for blocking hospital beds. There is clearly a crisis in care, and older people are suffering.'

Joe Harris called on the government to introduce free long term personal and nursing care.

Selling social services next?

THE GOVERNMENT is to send in private sector hit squads to social services departments it has described as 'failing'. These are Walsall, Birmingham, Coventry and North East Lincolnshire. Instead of providing money to train more staff and provide more resources the government is drafting in giant accountancy firms.

If performance doesn't improve within a six month period, these firms will be allowed to take over the services wholesale from the council. The private companies the government is recommending to get their greedy hands on the care of the most vulnerable include accountantcy firm Arthur Andersen. This is part of the giant firm disgraced in the Enron scandal.

Also on the 'approved' list are PA Consulting, KPMG, PriceWaterhouseCooper and Deloitte and Touche. Amazingly New Labour's health minister Jacqui Smith claimed that public sector consultants didn't have as much expertise as these accountants.

But what the hell do these firms know about providing services and care for abused children, the disabled, the elderly and the vulnerable? What social services need are more staff and more training. The national vacancy rate for qualified social workers is currently 15 percent.

Some social services departments in London report that 40 percent of posts are unfilled.

Two-tier system

THE MOVE to privatisation followed the government's publication of 'league tables' which 'name and shame' social service departments. Like league tables for schools and hospitals, the classifications are divisive and do nothing to address the real problem of underfunding. Those departments that score more points will have extra freedom to spend government grants.

It will mean a two-tier system which penalises poorer areas. As Owen Davies from the Unison union says: 'How is this blame culture going to improve anything for the hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people who depend on social care workers every day of their lives?'

Private guru

WHY WON'T the government fund care for the elderly? Perhaps it listens too much to its favourite health 'guru', Chai Patel. He sits on many influential health forums, quangos and charities, and donated £5,000 to the Labour Party last year. Chai Patel also advised Blair on private sector involvement in the NHS. He runs the giant Westminster Healthcare.

It was Britain's third biggest private provider of elderly 'care' when Patel sold the care homes to venture capital firm 3i for £260 million. The firm has been at the centre of many allegations that patients get substandard care.

Westminster Healthcare also owns the Priory chain of clinics. Although these are well known for their celebrity clients, half of Priory Healthcare's revenue comes from NHS referrals for people with psychiatric illnesses.

The clinics charge the public sector 25 percent more than private patients. These inflated charges mean that fewer NHS patients can get treated because the NHS is so strapped for cash. Patel admits that half of the Priory's expected £120 million turnover this year comes from the NHS.

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Article information

Sat 8 Jun 2002, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1803
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